The Matrix: Philosophy

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Philosophy and The Matrix: Introduction/News

The Matrix is a film that astounds not only with action and special effects but also with ideas. These pages are dedicated to exploring some of the many philosophical ideas that arise in both the original film and the sequels. In the upcoming months we will be continually expanding this section, offering essays from some of the brightest minds in philosophy and cognitive science. News about updates to this section can be found right here. (Scroll down to read about the latest update, or just click here.)

LAUNCH: NOVEMBER 20, 2002 We are kicking things off with essays from eight different contributors on various philosophical, technological, and religious aspects of the film. Though this collection of essays is part of the official web site for the Matrix films, the views expressed in these essays are solely those of the individual authors. The Wachowski brothers have remained relatively tight-lipped regarding the religious symbolism and philosophical themes that permeate the film, preferring that the movie speak for itself. Accordingly, you will not find anyone here claiming to offer the definitive analysis of the film, its symbols, message, etc. What you will find instead are essays that both elucidate the philosophical problems raised by the film and explore possible avenues for solving these problems. Some of these essays are more pedagogical in nature – instructing the reader in the various ways in which The Matrix raises questions that have been tackled throughout history by prominent philosophers. Other contributors use the film as a springboard for discussing their own original philosophical views. As you will see, the authors don't always agree with each other regarding how best to interpret the film. However, all of
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Philosophy and The Matrix: Introduction/News

the essays share the aim of giving the reader a sense of how this remarkable film offers more than the standard Hollywood fare. In other words, their common goal is to help show you just "how deep the rabbit-hole goes." Beginning the collection are three short essays in which I discuss two of the more conspicuous philosophical questions raised by the film: the skeptical worry that one’s experience may be illusory, and the moral question of whether it matters. Highlighting the parallels between the scenario described in The Matrix and similar imaginary situations that have been much discussed by philosophers, these essays offer an introduction to the positions taken by various thinkers on these fascinating skeptical and moral puzzles. They serve as a warm-up for things to come. Next is "The Matrix of Dreams" by Colin McGinn, a distinguished contemporary philosopher who is perhaps best known for his writings on consciousness. His essay offers an analysis of the film that focuses on the dreamlike nature of the world of the Matrix. Arguing that it is misguided to characterize the situation described by the film as involving hallucinations, McGinn seeks to show how the particular details of the film make it more plausible to see the Matrix as involving the direct employment of one’s imagination (as in a dream), rather than a force-feeding of false perceptions. Along the way, McGinn’s essay also touches on the moral assumptions of the film, several other philosophical problems raised by the character of Cypher, and the dreamlike quality of all films. Hubert Dreyfus is a philosopher known both for his pioneering discussion of the philosophical problems of Artificial Intelligence, and his work in bridging the gap between recent European and English-language philosophy. In "The Brave

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Philosophy and The Matrix: Introduction/News

New World of The Matrix," he and his son Stephen Dreyfus draw on the phenomenological tradition that began with Edmund Husserl and culminates in Maurice Merleau-Ponty to discuss the skeptical and moral problems raised by the film. They argue that the real worry facing folks trapped in the Matrix involves not deception or the possession of possibly false beliefs, but the limits on creativity imposed by the Matrix. Following Martin Heidegger in suggesting that our human nature lies in our capacity to redefine our nature and thereby open up new worlds, they conclude that this capacity for radical creation seems unavailable to those locked within the pre-programmed confines of the Matrix. Richard Hanley, author of the best-selling book The Metaphysics of Star Trek and a philosophy professor at the University of Delaware, again explores the intersection of philosophy and science fiction with his entertaining and thoughtprovoking piece "Never the Twain Shall Meet: Reflections on The First Matrix." In it he argues that The Matrix may have lessons to teach us regarding the coherence of our values. In particular, he makes the case that, given a traditional Christian notion of an afterlife, Heaven turns out to be rather like a Matrix! Even more surprising is a corollary to this thesis: Jean-Paul ("Hell is other people") Sartre was close to the truth after all – Heaven is best understood as a Matrix-like simulation in which contact with other real human beings is eliminated. Iakovos Vasiliou, a philosopher at Brooklyn College who specializes in Plato, Aristotle, and Wittgenstein, offers a penetrating investigation into the differences (and surprising similarities) between the scenario described in The Matrix and our own everyday situation in his essay "Reality, What Matters, and The Matrix." Pointing out that more than we might expect hinges on the moral backdrop of The Matrix plot line, he asks readers to instead envisage a "benevolently generated Matrix." Given the possibility of such a Matrix and the
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Philosophy and The Matrix: Introduction/News

actuality of a horrible situation on Earth, he argues that we will agree that entering into it offers not a denial of what we most value but instead a chance to better realize those values. Changing gears a bit we then have an essay from the notable (and some would say notorious) cybernetics pioneer Kevin Warwick. He is known internationally for his robotics research and in particular for a series of procedures in which he was implanted with sensors that connected him to computers and the internet. Less well-publicized is the fact that several years before The Matrix came out he published a non-fiction book that predicted the ultimate takeover of mankind by a race of super-intelligent robots. In his contribution here ("The Matrix – Our Future?") he draws on his years of research to muse on the plausibility (and desirability) of the scenario described in The Matrix, concluding that a real-life Matrix need not be feared if we prepare ourselves adequately. How? By becoming part machine ourselves – Warwick argues that transforming ourselves into Cyborgs will allow us to "plug in" confident that we will fully benefit from all that such a future offers. Rounding out our collection is an essay entitled "Wake Up! Gnosticism & Buddhism in The Matrix" from two professors of religion: Frances FlanneryDailey and Rachel Wagner. Flannery-Dailey's research speciality is ancient dreams, apocalypticism and early-Jewish mysticism, while Wagner's research focuses on biblical studies and the relationship between religion & culture. Their essay offers a comprehensive treatment of the Gnostic and Buddhist themes that appear in the film. While pointing out the many differences between these two traditions and the eclectic manner in which both are referenced throughout the film, Flannery-Dailey and Wagner make it clear that common to Gnosticism, Buddhism, and The Matrix is the idea that what we
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He then goes on to argue (in sympathy with Vasiliou’s essay) that the worst thing about living in the Matrix would not be the metaphysical or epistemological limitations such a scenario would impose. and epistemologist James Pryor (Princeton). among others. In "What's So Bad About Living in The Matrix?" he explores and criticizes two tempting but problematic philosophical positions: the view that there can't be facts which it's impossible for us to know about (sometimes called verificationism). occur. and the view that everyone's motive for acting is always to have nicer experiences. We hope you enjoy this first batch of essays.warnerbros. _____________________________________ UPDATE: MARCH 20. 2003 As promised. be it spiritual or otherwise.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_intro. moral philosopher Julia Driver (Dartmouth). Pryor tries to show that these positions.Philosophy and The Matrix: Introduction/News take to be reality is in fact a kind of illusion or dream from which we ought best to "wake up. we are pleased to offer five new essays tackling philosophical themes that arise in The Matrix. it would instead be the political constraints: those trapped in the Matrix have constraints on their http://whatisthematrix. Starting things off is a piece by the epistemologist and philosopher of mind James Pryor. Check back for future contributions from the renowned philosopher of mind David Chalmers (Arizona). He's contributed a lively essay that will be of particular interest to those coming to philosophy for the first time. Employing examples from both the film and imaginary thought-experiments. which can often initially seem irresistible to students. are not as straightforward or as satisfying as they might first appear." Only then can enlightenment.html (5 of 8) [4/8/2003 16:55:32] .

com/rl_cmp/new_phil_intro. most of our beliefs about the world are still true. and personhood. explores some of the distinctively ethical issues that arise in The Matrix in her essay "Artificial Ethics. we are deluded about the external world. In his essay "The Matrix as Metaphysics. we ought to regard artificial intelligences such as Agent Smith as creatures that deserve genuine moral consideration. this possibility is not as bad as we might have thought." he suggests that while we cannot rule out the possibility that we are in a system like the Matrix. to the extent that the Matrix offers a similarly illusory world free of actual unpleasant effects on others. Chalmers's surprising conclusion is that even if we are living in a Matrix-like simulation.Philosophy and The Matrix: Introduction/News action that most of us deeply value not having. she argues that. Instead.warnerbros. he suggests that if we are in a matrix." Driver begins by using the film to consider the moral status of artificially created beings: she argues that. and was created by beings who ensured that our minds interact with this physical world. http://whatisthematrix. rationality. it also seems odd to attribute wrongdoing to agents acting in such a world. In the second part of her essay Driver tackles the thorny philosophical question of whether one can behave immorally when in “non-veridical” (illusory) circumstances. David Chalmers is a philosopher from the University of Arizona and author of numerous books and articles on the philosophy of mind. we should regard this as telling us about the nature of the external world: the physical world is ultimately made of bits. He argues against the intuitive view that if we are in a matrix. a moral philosopher from Dartmouth College and author of Uneasy Virtue. given certain assumptions regarding the nature of consciousness. However. Julia Driver. Noting the implausibility of attributing wrongdoing to those who perform seemingly immoral acts in a dream.html (6 of 8) [4/8/2003 16:55:32] . including the influential volume The Conscious Mind.

Whoa!". a professor of philosophy at Wheaton College whose work focuses on the philosophy of the ancient Greeks. Ingeniously utilizing aspects of The Matrix to describe and explore the traditional positions taken in debates over free will. Does such absolute freedom indeed “rock” the way we naturally think it would? McKenna convincingly argues that total freedom of this sort offers too much of a good thing: part of the joy we take in exercising our freedom is in pushing boundaries and testing limits — if all boundaries and limitations are removed..warnerbros. offers up a comprehensive yet light-hearted exploration of the free will problem in his essay "Neo's Freedom . has its own moral norms — its own ethics — that ought to be both acknowledged and respected." Partridge considers the striking similarities between The Matrix and the "cave" scenario described in Plato’s Republic.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_intro. In "Plato's Cave & The Matrix. fatalism.Philosophy and The Matrix: Introduction/News drawing on insights from the first part of her essay. McKenna manages to cover a lot of ground: determinism. Michael McKenna. Driver concludes that we have good reasons to think that actions in the Matrix would have genuine effects on both humans and some artificial creatures. He then goes on to explore the attractiveness of the radical freedom that Neo appears to have achieved by the end of The Matrix.. Partridge explores a deeper continuity between the film and Plato’s text: both narratives http://whatisthematrix. the possibility for such joy will disappear as well. and incompatibilism are all canvassed and compared through the unique perspective afforded us by the film. we have an essay from John Partridge. In addition to pointing out the numerous surface parallels between the cavedwellers Plato describes and the humans trapped in the Matrix. like our world. a philosopher at Ithaca College who specializes in the philosophical problems of freedom and moral responsibility. and thus the world of the Matrix. compatibilism. Finally.html (7 of 8) [4/8/2003 16:55:32] .

both Neo and the cave-dwellers must undertake a difficult journey from darkness to light if genuine knowledge (and consequently true "care of the soul") is to be attained. Chris Grau.Philosophy and The Matrix: Introduction/News privilege the self-knowledge that follows from the right kind of selfexamination.warnerbros. As Plato might put it. Editor http://whatisthematrix. Enjoy this new group of essays. and be sure and check back soon for further updates.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_intro.html (8 of 8) [4/8/2003 16:55:32] .

Neo's predicament makes one wonder. In an attempt to provide a firm foundation for knowledge. in order to http://whatisthematrix. things aren't quite that simple. you will wake up.warnerbros. This was done. Arguably the most famous exponent of this worry in the Western philosophical tradition is the seventeenth-century French philosopher Rene Descartes. or reality for a dream. we eventually wake up. in part. though: how can any of us be sure that we have ever genuinely woken up? Perhaps. Most of us. have been struck with the thought that we might mistake a dream for reality.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dream. our dreams thus far have in fact been dreams within a dream. Unfortunately. and when we do we realize that our experience was all in our mind. at one time or another. Of course.Philosophy: Dream Skepticism Neo has woken up from a hell of a dream — the dream that was his life. like Neo prior to his downing the red pill.html (1 of 4) [4/8/2003 16:55:45] . he began his Meditations by clearing the philosophical ground through doubting all that could be doubted. poetry. The idea that what we take to be the real world could all be just a dream is familiar to many students of philosophy. How was he to know? The cliché is that if you are dreaming and you pinch yourself. It is the nature of most dreams that we take them for reality — while dreaming we are unaware that we are in fact in a dreamworld. and literature.

we can still conclude that we have some knowledge of the nature of reality.html (2 of 4) [4/8/2003 16:55:45] . and I know what I am doing. am I convinced of just such familiar events — that I am here in my dressing gown. sitting by the fire —when in fact I am lying undressed in bed! Yet at the moment my eyes are certainly wide awake when I look at this piece of paper. and the fact that dreams often seem as vivid and "realistic" as real life.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dream. asleep at night. he points out that even if all our sensory experience is but a dream. The result is that I begin to feel dazed. Given this. Descartes takes the first step towards this goal by raising (through his fictional narrator) the possibility that we might be dreaming: "How often." (Meditations.Philosophy: Dream Skepticism determine if anything that could count as certain knowledge could survive such rigorous and systematic skepticism. as I stretch out and feel my hand I do so deliberately. If so. I see plainly that there are never any sure signs by means of which being awake can be distinguished from being asleep. as you sit at your computer and read this? This is the kind of perplexing thought Descartes forces us to confront.warnerbros. Indeed. and this very feeling only reinforces the notion that I may be asleep. then it seems we similarly have no justification in thinking that the world we experience is the real world. but he ultimately maintains that the possibility that one might be dreaming cannot by itself cast doubt on all we think we know. Just as a painter cannot create ex nihilo but must rely http://whatisthematrix. it becomes questionable whether we are justified in thinking that any of our beliefs are true. It seems we have no justification for the belief that we are not dreaming. 13) When we dream we are often blissfully ignorant that we are dreaming. how can you rule out the possibility that you might be dreaming even now. I shake my head and it is not asleep. Indeed! As if I did not remember other occasions when I have been tricked by exactly similar thoughts while asleep! As I think about this more carefully. The narrator of Descartes' Meditations worries about this. All this would not happen with such distinctness to someone asleep.

to provide a foundation for knowledge in which truths arrived at through reason are given priority over knowledge gained from the senses.html (3 of 4) [4/8/2003 16:55:45] . Jonathan.) Descartes was not himself a skeptic — he employs this skeptical argument so as to help remind the reader that the truths of mathematics (and other truths of reason) are on firmer ground than the data provided to us by our senses. Descartes had imagined an equally terrifying possibility. In the next section we will see that. such as the truths of mathematics: "For whether I am awake or asleep. it served Descartes' larger philosophical project: he sought. he proceeds in The Meditations to utilize a much more radical skeptical argument. among other things. Among the items of knowledge that Descartes thought survived dream skepticism are truths arrived at through the use of reason. Despite the fact that Descartes' ultimate goal was to demonstrate how genuine knowledge is possible.warnerbros. http://whatisthematrix.Philosophy: Dream Skepticism on pigments with which to create her image. Further Reading: Dancy. two and three added together are five.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dream. many years before the Wachowskis dreamed up The Matrix. and a square has no more than four sides. certain elements of our thought must exist prior to our imaginings. one that casts doubt on even his beloved mathematical truths. Blackwell." (14) While such an insight offers little comfort to someone wondering whether the people and objects she confronts are genuine. (This bias shouldn't surprise those who remember that Descartes was a brilliant mathematician in addition to being a philosopher. 1985. Introduction to Contemporary Epistemology.

html (4 of 4) [4/8/2003 16:55:45] .The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism. tr: John Cottingham. Oxford.warnerbros. 1984 Stroud. Cambridge University Press. Robert Stoothoff. Barry. http://whatisthematrix.Philosophy: Dream Skepticism Descartes. Dugald Murdoch.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dream. 1984.The Philosophical Writings of Descartes.

Neo's life was not what he thought it was. put forward by some super-human intelligence in such a way that I cannot possibly detect the ruse? The philosopher Rene Descartes suggested a http://whatisthematrix.html (1 of 7) [4/8/2003 16:56:14] . it isn't clear how any of us can know with certainty that we are not in a position similar to Neo before his "rebirth. What's worse.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_brain. A viewer of The Matrix is naturally led to wonder: how do I know I am not in the Matrix? How do I know for sure that my world is not also a sophisticated charade." but unlike a dream." Our ordinary confidence in our ability to reason and our natural tendency to trust the deliverances of our senses can both come to seem rather naive once we confront this possibility of deception. this world was not the creation of Neo's mind. These creatures have fed Neo a simulation that he couldn't possibly help but take as the real thing.warnerbros. The truth is more sinister: the world was a creation of the artificially intelligent computers that have taken over the Earth and have subjugated mankind in the process.Philosophy: Brains in Vats and the Evil Demon Before breaking out of the Matrix. It was a lie. Morpheus described it as a "dreamworld.

it could conceivably cause him to go wrong when performing even the simplest acts of reasoning. no place. As ludicrous as the idea of the evil demon may sound at first. I shall think that the sky. colours. a "malicious demon. no extended thing. while at the same time ensuring that all these things appear to me to exist just as they do now? What is more.. How do I know that he has not brought it about that there is no earth. [. Such a demon could not only deceive him about his perceptions.. or in some even simpler matter. sounds and all external things are merely the delusions of dreams which he has devised to ensnare my judgment. who is supremely good and the source of truth. just as I consider that others sometimes go astray in cases where they think they have the most perfect knowledge. you may well be a mere plaything of such a malevolent intelligence.warnerbros. it is hard. how do I know that God has not brought it about that I too go wrong every time I add two and three or count the sides of a square.Philosophy: Brains in Vats and the Evil Demon similar worry: the frightening possibility that all of one's experiences might be the result of a powerful outside force. if that is imaginable? But perhaps God would not have allowed me to be deceived in this way." "And yet firmly implanted in my mind is the long-standing opinion that there is an omnipotent God who made me the kind of creature that I am. no size. no shape.] I will suppose therefore that not God. upon reflection. since he is said to be supremely good. evidence or proof you might put forward could easily be yet another trick played by the demon.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_brain. More to the point of our general discussion: for all you know. How could you possibly prove to yourself that you are not in the kind of nightmarish situation Descartes describes? It would seem that any argument. you may well be trapped in the Matrix. no sky. but rather some malicious demon of the utmost power and cunning has employed all his energies in order to deceive me. Many contemporary philosophers have discussed a similar skeptical dilemma http://whatisthematrix. not to share Descartes' worry: for all you know. the earth. 15) The narrator of Descartes' Meditations concludes that none of his former opinions are safe. the air." (Meditations. shapes.html (2 of 7) [4/8/2003 16:56:14] . This radical worry seems inescapable.

and wired to a computer which is feeding you your current experiences under the control of some ingenious technician scientist (benevolent or malevolent according to taste). Descartes' own way out of his evil demon skepticism was to first argue that one cannot genuinely doubt the existence of oneself. for your experience is ex hypothesi identical with that of something which is not a brain in a vat. Since you have only your own experience to appeal to. in this kind of scenario it seems that your ability to reason is no safer than the deliverances of the senses: the evil demon or malicious scientist could be ensuring that your reasoning is just as flawed as your perceptions. you realize that there must http://whatisthematrix.html (3 of 7) [4/8/2003 16:56:14] . there is nothing close to unanimous agreement regarding how the puzzle should be solved.Philosophy: Brains in Vats and the Evil Demon that is a bit closer to the scenario described in The Matrix. As you have probably already guessed. 10) If you cannot know whether you are in the real world or in the word of a computer simulation. Philosophers have proposed a dizzying variety of "solutions" to this kind of skepticism but. as with many philosophical problems. nothing can reveal to you which situation is the actual one. you cannot be sure that your beliefs about the world are true." (Introduction to Contemporary Epistemology. It has come to be known as the "brain in a vat" hypothesis.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_brain. He pointed out that all thinking presupposes a thinker: even in doubting. And. there is no easy way out of this philosophical problem (or at least there is no easy philosophical way out!). nothing in your experience could possibly reveal that you were. suspended in a vat full of liquid in a laboratory. For if you were such a brain. provided that the scientist is successful. and one powerful formulation of the idea is presented by the philosopher Jonathan Dancy: "You do not know that you are not a brain. what was even more frightening to Descartes.warnerbros. then. and that experience is the same in either situation.

the evil scientist would have to be outside? or would he? Perhaps there is no evil scientist. Of course. One of the more interesting contemporary challenges to this kind of skeptical scenario has come from the philosopher Hilary Putnam. Since this shows us that an all-good God does exist. each of us has an idea of God as an all-powerful. I want now to ask a question which will seem very silly and obvious (at least to some people. given certain plausible assumptions about how our language refers to objects in the world. and that this idea could only have come from God. but which will take us to real philosophical depths rather quickly. http://whatisthematrix. in addition to our innate idea of self.Philosophy: Brains in Vats and the Evil Demon at least be a self which is doing the doubting. therefore I am. rather than a number of separate unrelated hallucinations. While Descartes' argument for the existence of the self has been tremendously influential and is still actively debated. we could imagine that all human beings (perhaps all sentient beings) are brains in a vat (or nervous systems in a vat in case some beings with just nervous systems count as ‘sentient’).") He then went on to claim that. including some very sophisticated philosophers). He asks us to consider a variation on the standard "brain in a vat" story that is uncannily similar to the situation described in The Matrix: "Instead of having just one brain in a vat.warnerbros. you seem to yourself to be hearing my words…. This time let us suppose that the automatic machinery is programmed to give us all a collective hallucination. Thus.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_brain. perhaps (though this is absurd) the universe just happens to consist of automatic machinery tending a vat full of brains and nervous systems.html (4 of 7) [4/8/2003 16:56:14] . allgood. His point is not so much to defend our ordinary claims to knowledge as to question whether the "brain in a vat" hypothesis is coherent. we can have confidence that he would not allow us to be so drastically deceived about the nature of our perceptions and their relationship to reality. when I seem to myself to be talking to you. and infinite being implanted in our minds. (Thus Descartes' most famous line: "I think. few philosophers have followed him in accepting his particular theistic solution to skepticism about the external world.

Truth.warnerbros. In order to successfully refer when we use language. and History. Sometimes we get confused or think in an incoherent manner — sometimes we say things that are simply nonsense. While it is difficult to do justice to Putnam’s ingenious argument in a short summary.Philosophy: Brains in Vats and the Evil Demon Suppose this whole story were actually true. there must be an appropriate relationship between the speaker and the object referred to. I might also use a name or a general term which is meaningless in the sense that it fails to hook up to the world. he saw only gibberish. High on Nitrous Oxide. The point of such an example is that words do not refer to objects "magically" or http://whatisthematrix. Could we.html (5 of 7) [4/8/2003 16:56:14] . the philosopher William James was convinced he was having profound insights into the nature of reality — he was convinced that his thoughts were both sensical and important. few would want to claim that the dog actually meant to refer to someone named Ed. say or think that we were?" (Reason. if we were brains in a vat in this way. 7) Putnam's surprising answer is that we cannot coherently think that we are brains in vats. and even if he did. Upon sobering up and looking at the notebook in which he had written his drugaddled thoughts. Presumably the dog doesn’t know anyone named Ed.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_brain. If a dog playing on the beach manages to scrawl the word "Ed" in the sand with a stick. Just as I might say a sentence that is nonsense. Philosophers talk of such a term as "failing to refer" to an object. Of course. and so skepticism of that kind can never really get off the ground. and far from everything we say is a meaningful utterance. his point is roughly as follows: Not everything that goes through our heads is a genuine thought. we don't always realize at the time that we aren't making sense — sometimes we earnestly believe we are saying (or thinking) something meaningful. he wouldn’t be capable of intending to write Ed’s name in the sand.

at best they refer to the computer representations of chickens that have been sent to their brain. it can’t be simply accidental that the name was uttered. few would be inclined to think that this person has actually referred to the character Neo. if someone were to utter the sentence "I am simply a body stuck in a pod somewhere being fed http://whatisthematrix. Specifying exactly what should count as "appropriate" here is a notoriously difficult task. but we can get some idea of the kind of thing required by considering cases in which reference fails through an inappropriate connection: if someone unfamiliar with the film The Matrix manages to blurt out the word "Neo" while sneezing. The kind of causal connection between the speaker and the object referred to (Neo) is just not in place. or anything else in the real world. according to Putnam.warnerbros. Consider the example of someone who has lived their entire life in the Matrix: when they talk of "chickens. in coherently supposing the brain in a vat story to be true is that brains raised in such an environment could not successfully refer to genuine brains. Similarly. Thus. or vats. For reference to succeed. (Another way to think about it: the sneezer would have uttered "Neo" even if the film The Matrix had never been made.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_brain. when they talk of human bodies being trapped in pods and fed data by the Matrix.) The difficulty. Putnam claims that one condition which is crucial for successful reference is that there be an appropriate causal connection between the object referred to and the speaker referring. they don’t successfully refer to real bodies or pods — they can’t refer to physical bodies in the real world because they cannot have the appropriate causal connection to such objects.Philosophy: Brains in Vats and the Evil Demon intrinsically: certain conditions must be met in the world in order for us to accept that a given written or spoken word has any meaning and whether it actually refers to anything at all.html (6 of 7) [4/8/2003 16:56:14] ." they don’t actually refer to real chickens.

Reason. and History. 1984. 1986. Robert Stoothoff. Nagel. and the relationship between the mind and the world. The View from Nowhere. 1983. Dugald Murdoch. If the person is trapped in the Matrix. Descartes. Truth. then he can't successfully refer to real human bodies when he utters the word "human body. Introduction to Contemporary Epistemology. Hilary.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_brain. Jonathan. then the sentence is straightforwardly false.F.warnerbros. Skepticism and Naturalism: Some Varieties. If the person is in fact not trapped in the Matrix. http://whatisthematrix. P. Cambridge University Press. tr: John Cottingham. Thomas. Strawson. and even incapable of successfully expressing the thought that he might be in the Matrix! (Could this be why at one point Morpheus tells Neo that "no one can be told what the Matrix is"?) Putnam's argument is controversial. Oxford. 1985.html (7 of 7) [4/8/2003 16:56:14] . Further Reading: Dancy. but more general issues regarding meaning.Philosophy: Brains in Vats and the Evil Demon sensory information by a computer" that sentence would itself be necessarily false." and so it appears that his statement must also be false. Blackwell. The Philosophical Writings of Descartes. Such a person seems thus doubly trapped: incapable of knowing that he is in the Matrix. Columbia University Press. but it is noteworthy because it shows that the kind of situation described in The Matrix raises not just the expected philosophical issues about knowledge and skepticism. Cambridge University Press. Putnam. language. 1981.

how can his situation be worse than the inevitably crappy life he would lead outside of the Matrix? What could matter beyond the quality of his experience? Remember.Philosophy: The Experience Machine Cypher is not a nice guy. he won't even know he made the deal. right? Is feeling good the only thing that has value in itself? The question of whether only conscious experience can ultimately matter is one that has been explored http://whatisthematrix. but giving reasons for why his choice is a bad one is not an easy task. After all.html (1 of 6) [4/8/2003 16:56:28] . but is he an unreasonable guy? Is he right to want to get re-inserted into the Matrix? Many want to say no. What he doesn't know can't hurt him. so long as his experiences will be pleasant. once he's back in. living his fantasy life.warnerbros.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_experience.

It is known as "the experience machine": "Suppose there were an experience machine that would give you any experience you desired. All the time you would be floating in a tank. Others can also plug in to have the experiences they want.Of course. as opposed to simply have the experience of doing them. Superduper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel. while in the tank you won't know that you're there.. or reading an interesting book. preprogramming your life's desires?. Finally. that we actually do certain things. In sum. Also. I don't just want to have the experience of being a decent person. I want to actually be a decent person.Philosophy: The Experience Machine in depth by several contemporary philosophers.. (Ignore problems such as who will service the machines if everyone plugs in. with electrodes attached to your brain." (44) http://whatisthematrix. so there's no need to stay unplugged to serve them.) Would you plug in? What else can matter to us. As he puts it: "We learn that something matters to us in addition to experience by imagining an experience machine and then realizing that we would not use it. you'll think it's all actually happening. and Utopia Robert Nozick introduced a "thought experiment" that has become a staple of introductory philosophy classes everywhere. Should you plug into this machine for life. or making a friend. Nozick argues that we value contact with reality in itself. other than how our lives feel from the inside?" (43) Nozick goes on to argue that other things do matter to us: For instance. State. that we be the authors of our lives and that our lives involve interacting with the world. In the course of discussing this issue in his 1971 book Anarchy. he points out that we value being (and becoming) certain kinds of people. often in a rather deep way. Nozick thinks that it matters to most of us. independent of any benefits such contact may bring through pleasant experience: we want to know we are experiencing the real thing. and he thinks that the fact that most people would not choose to enter into such an experience machine demonstrates that they do value these other things.html (2 of 6) [4/8/2003 16:56:28] .warnerbros.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_experience.

Nonetheless. it appears that there is at least one important difference between it and the simulated world of The Matrix. or otherwise confused. Perhaps those hesitant to plug-in don't realize that they value being active in the real world only because normally that is the most reliable way for them to http://whatisthematrix. Even if a modified experience machine is presented to us. So what if most people are hung-up on "reality" and would turn down the offer to permanently enter an experience machine? Most people might be wrong. As he points out. The Matrix seems to be set up in such a way that one can enter it and retain one's free will and capacity for decision making. Maybe they think something could go wrong with the machines. or irrational.Philosophy: The Experience Machine While Nozick's description of his machine is vague. and perhaps this makes it a significantly more attractive option than the experience machine Nozick describes.warnerbros. many would still object that permanently going into such a machine involves the loss of something valuable. Cypher and his philosophical comrades are likely to be unmoved by such observations. a loss of freedom is not the only disturbing aspect of Nozick's story. one which allows us to keep our free will but enter into an entirely virtual world. or maybe they keep forgetting that while in the machine they will no longer be aware of their choice to enter the machine. and it might be distorting people's reactions to the case and clouding the issue of whether they value contact with reality per se. we seem to mourn the loss of contact with the real world as well. All their responses might show is that such people are superstitious. This apparent loss of free will is disturbing to many people. Nozick implies that someone hooked up to the experience machine will not be able exercise their agency — they become the passive recipients of preprogrammed experiences.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_experience.html (3 of 6) [4/8/2003 16:56:28] .

But others among the insured have no significant belief to that effect. After all. perhaps from a heaven on high. In my case. is simply to put the cart before the horse. perhaps our free will and our capacity to interact with reality are means to a further end — they matter to us because they allow us access to what really matters: pleasant conscious experience. To think the reverse. Cypher could reply. He acknowledges that there is a strong temptation when in a certain frame of mind to agree with this kind of Cypher-esque reasoning.. but he argues that this is a temptation we ought to try and resist. if they die before their dependents do.Philosophy: The Experience Machine acquire the pleasant experience that they value in itself.warnerbros. they will still observe their beloved dependents.. this is because. however. we come across some surprisingly everyday examples that don't sit easily with Cypher's claims: "Consider life insurance. even if I will never experience anything that happens to them. In other words. If we stop and reflect on what we really do care about. We are inclined to think that only conscious experience can really matter in part because we fall into the grip of a particular picture of what values must be like. what would be so great about the capacity to freely make decisions or the ability to be in the real world if neither of these things allowed us to feel good? Peter Unger has taken on these kinds of objections in his own discussion of "experience inducers". and we then find it hard to understand how something that doesn't affect our consciousness could sensibly matter to us. and this in turn leads us to stop paying attention to our actual values. that reality and freedom have value in themselves (or what philosophers sometimes call nonderivative or intrinsic value). we all pay our premiums. Cypher's vision of value is too easy and too simplistic.html (4 of 6) [4/8/2003 16:56:28] .com/rl_cmp/new_phil_experience. Still. some among the insured may strongly believe that. I still want things to go http://whatisthematrix. To be sure. We make ourselves blind to the subtlety and complexity of our values.

301) As Unger goes on to point out.Philosophy: The Experience Machine better."(302). for my dependents. the insistence that conscious experience is the only thing that has value in itself can come to seem downright peculiar. and Value. If purchasing life insurance seems like a rational thing to do. Consciousness. it seems contrived to chalk up all examples of people purchasing life insurance to cases in which someone is simply trying to benefit (while alive) from the favorable impression such a purchase might make on the dependents. In many cases it seems ludicrous to deny that "what motivates us. After all. The realization that we value things other than pleasant conscious experience should lead us to at least wonder if the legitimacy of this kind of value hasn't been too hastily dismissed by Cypher and his ilk.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_experience. once we see how widespread and commonplace our other nonderivative concerns are. (Do they make sense in light of each other and in light of our beliefs about the world and ourselves?) It isn't obvious http://whatisthematrix. why shouldn't the desire that I experience reality (rather than some illusory simulation) be similarly rational? Perhaps the best test of the rationality of our most basic values is actually whether they." (Identity. rather than worse. taken together. but it does show that incidents in which we intrinsically value things other than our own conscious experience might be more widespread than we are at first liable to think.html (5 of 6) [4/8/2003 16:56:28] . (Other examples include the value we place on not being deceived or lied to — the importance of this value doesn't seem to be completely exhausted by our concern that we might one day become aware of the lies and deception. form a consistent and coherent network of attachments and concerns. No doubt. whether we experience their future or not.) Most of us care about a lot of things independently of the experiences that those things provide for us. of course. is our great concern for our dependent's future. I am rational in having this concern.warnerbros. This is not a proof that such concern is rational.

1970." Philosopical Review.. Consciousness. Basic Books. Maybe the right response to a demand for justification here is to point out that the same demand can be made to Cypher: "Just what justifies your exclusive concern with pleasant conscious experience?" It seems as though nothing does — if such concern is justified it must be somehow self-justifying. and perhaps what we don't know can hurt us. 1971. Explanations have to come to an end somewhere. but if that is possible. Nagel. pointing out that the value I place on living in the real world coheres well with my other values and beliefs will not quiet the defender of Cypher. however. Maybe I hold a bunch of exquisitely consistent but thoroughly irrational values! The quest for some further justification of my basic values might be misguided. Identity. Peter. and Value. Mark. Thomas. Oxford. as he will be quick to respond that the fact that my values all cohere doesn't show that they are all justified.Philosophy: The Experience Machine that valuing interaction with the real world fails this kind of test. Anarchy.." Nous. 1990. "Reasons and Reductionism. Nozick.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_experience. 1992. then maybe what we don't experience should matter to us.html (6 of 6) [4/8/2003 16:56:28] . State. Unger.warnerbros. "Death. as Ludwig Wittgenstein once famously remarked. http://whatisthematrix. Christopher Grau Further Reading: Johnston. Robert. why shouldn't our concerns for other people and our desire to live in the real world also be selfjustifying? If those can also be self-justifying. and Utopia. Of course.

blocking out the sun’s rays. in an attempt at machine genocide—since the machines needed solar power to survive. subjectively speaking. But this is no wretched slave camp. What is known is that it was the humans who "scorched the sky". in effect. after an attempt to wipe the machines out for good. the slaves — cruelly exploited by the machines. the Matrix would have been a virtual paradise for humans—and all for a little bit of battery power. it is idyllic. a warm and womblike environment. starving them of the food they need: the sun. The machines never kill any http://whatisthematrix. while the machines feed in essential nutrients. in exchange for the energy they need. but it did follow a long period of machine exploitation by humans.warnerbros. But there is another perspective. in its way.The Matrix of Dreams The Matrix naturally adopts the perspective of the humans: they are the victims. there was a catastrophic war between the humans and the machines. The humans are given exactly the life they had before. and to which they seemed addicted. that of the machines themselves. a sentient robot that spawned a race of its own. It isn’t known now who started the war.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mcginn. But if it had been left up to the machines. a grotesque gulag of torment and suffering. after the humans had produced AI. Things are no different for them. In response and retaliation the machines subdued the humans and made them into sources of energy—batteries. So let’s look at it from the point of view of the machines. This. Indeed.html (1 of 11) [4/8/2003 16:56:39] . As Morpheus explains to Neo. but the humans rejected this in favor of a familiar life of moderate woe—the kind of life they had always had. at an earlier stage the Matrix offered them a vastly improved life. the life-giving sun. Each human now floats in his or her own personal vat.

but they do so as painlessly as possible. awaiting the Second Coming. but eventually he comes to realize his destiny—as would-be conqueror of the evil Matrix.The Matrix of Dreams of their human fuel cells (unless. The machines need to factory farm the humans. The religious subtext is worth making explicit. they make sure to recycle the naturally dying humans as food for the living ones.warnerbros. But this holy war against the machines is conducted as most holy wars http://whatisthematrix. as they rapidly decimated the planet. the machines would insist. It’s all pretty…humane. it is all a matter of the forward march of evolution: humans had their holiday in the sun. then. Cypher is the Judas Iscariot of the story—the traitor who betrays Neo and his disciples. Neo doubts his own status as "The One". freedom from the Matrix takes on the dimensions of a religious quest. but now the machines have evolved to occupy the position of dominance. the Matrix is merely a humane way to ensure their own survival. in fact. Trinity comes the closest to playing the God role—notably when she brings Neo back to life at the end of the movie (a clear reference to the Resurrection). Neo is clearly intended to be the Jesus Christ figure: he is referred to in that way several times in the course of the film. of course. as Jesus must have. For them. as a direct result of the humans trying to exterminate the machines. In the circumstances. really. Moreover. Cypher is so called because of what he does (decode the Matrix) and what he is—a clever encrypter of his own character and motives (no one can decode him till it is too late).com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mcginn. as Agent Smith explains. But of course this is not the way the humans view the situation. Humans are no longer the oppressor but the oppressed—and the world is a better place for it. Considering the way the humans used to treat their own factory farm animals—their own fuel cells—the machines are models of caring livestock husbandry. at least among those few who know what it is. they are threatened).html (2 of 11) [4/8/2003 16:56:39] .1 Morpheus is the John the Baptist figure.

They could have produced perceptual hallucinations in conscious humans. It is important that they not wake up. Consider the case of a neurosurgeon http://whatisthematrix. What I want to discuss now is the precise way the Matrix operates. I. the machines had another option. is the moral and historical backdrop of the story. That was a problem for the Matrix earlier.html (3 of 11) [4/8/2003 16:56:39] . The dream state is not distinguishable from the waking state from the point of view of the dreamer.warnerbros. The machines are regarded as simply evil by the humans. thus deluding the envatted humans—as we are deluded every night by our naturally occurring dreams. and why this matters. The humans are accordingly represented as asleep while ensconced in their placental vats (it’s worth remembering that "matrix" originally meant "womb"—so the humans are in effect pre-natal dreamers). Empathy for the machines is not part of the human perspective. when the humans found their dreams too pleasant to be true and kept regaining consciousness ("whole crops were lost"). then.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mcginn.The Matrix of Dreams are—without any regard for the interests and well being of the enemy. This. this is not the only way that the Matrix could have been designed. which would expose the Matrix for what it is—as Neo does with the help of Morpheus. with their representatives—the Agents—a breed of ruthless killers with hearts of the purest silicon (or program code). It is repeatedly stated in the film that the humans are dreaming: the psychological state created by the Matrix is the dream state. However. But the chief philosophical conceit of the story concerns the workings of the Matrix itself. Dreams simulate reality.

i.html (4 of 11) [4/8/2003 16:56:39] . and it chose the former. and why dreams consist of the latter not the former. visual sensations just as if the subject is seeing an elephant in the room. It might be thought that the dream option and the hallucination option are not at bottom all that different. not a type of (objectless) perceiving.e. Indeed. since dreaming simply is sleeping hallucination. this is pretty much the classic philosophical brain-in-a-vat story: a conscious subject has a state of massive hallucination produced in him. not of sensory percepts. Dreaming is a type of imagining. If this were done systematically. In this scenario waking up does nothing to destroy the illusion—which might make it a more effective means of subduing humans so far as the machines are concerned. But this is wrong: dreams consist of mental images. analogous to the mental images of daydreams.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mcginn. So: the Matrix had a choice between sleeping dreams and conscious hallucinations as ways of deluding humans. But I think it should be intuitively quite clear that visualizing my mother’s face in my mind’s eye is very different from having a sensory impression of my mother’s face. And I also think that most people intuitively recognize that dream experiences are imagistic not perceptual in character. actually seeing her. we could delude the subject into believing his hallucinations. or else they would keep waking up simply because they had had enough sleep. the Matrix has the extra problem of ensuring that the normal sleep cycle of humans is subverted. hear and touch things. thus duplicating from the inside the type of perceptual experience we have when we see. I can’t argue this in full here. but my book Mindsight2 gives a number of reasons why we need to distinguish percepts and images.The Matrix of Dreams stimulating a conscious subject’s sensory cortex in such a way that perceptual impressions are produced that have no external object—say. In fact.warnerbros. So there is an important psychological difference between constructing the Matrix as a dream-inducing system and as a hallucinationhttp://whatisthematrix.

but things that happen to us. as well as himself. He asserts his will over the objects he encounters. because of the central idea that the contents of the dreams caused by the Matrix are capable of being controlled—they can become subject to the dreamer’s will. since dreams consist of images and images are subject to the will. So images are. It http://whatisthematrix. Neo aspires to—and eventually achieves—a high degree of control over the objects around him. to use Wittgenstein’s phrase. in the Matrix what happens can in principle be controlled by the will of the person experiencing the events in question. But it would make no sense to try to control the course of one’s perceptions. it is also a matter of the kinds of psychological state that are produced in them—imagistic or sensory. The humans who are viewed as candidates for being The One have abnormal powers of control over objects—as with those special children we see levitating objects and bending spoons. Therefore. This makes perfect sense. even when they are hallucinatory.warnerbros. for percepts are not actions.html (5 of 11) [4/8/2003 16:56:39] . while percepts are not—even when they are merely hallucinatory. we clearly can control the onset and course of our images: you can simply decide to form an image of the Eiffel tower. the story of the Matrix requires. even though this control is normally very restricted. In the case of ordinary daytime imagery.The Matrix of Dreams producing system: it is not merely a matter of whether the subjects are awake.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mcginn. But could the machines have done it the second way? Could the movie have been made with the second method in place? I think not. given that his environment is the product of dreaming. But we cannot in this way control our percepts: you cannot simply decide to see the Eiffel tower (as opposed to deciding to go and see it). that the humans be dreaming and not perceptually hallucinating. for its conceptual coherence. Now. since percepts are not subject to the will. "subject to the will".

In the normal case we do not have conscious control over our dreams—we are passive before them. which are in fact switched off as they slumber in their pods. possibly contrary to the intentions of our unconscious dream designer: for example. on the other hand. For only then could they gain control over their dreams.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mcginn. But the phenomenon that really demonstrates conscious control over the dream is so called "lucid dreaming" in which the subject not only knows he is dreaming but can also determine the course of the dream. Percepts. we each have a Matrix in our own brains—a system that controls what we dream—and this unconscious Matrix is an intelligent designer of our dreams. captains of their own imagination. when a nightmare becomes too intense and we interrupt it by waking up—often judging within the dream that it is only a dream.The Matrix of Dreams must be their imagination that is controlled by the Matrix and not their perceptions. This is a rare ability (I have had only one lucid dream in all my 52 years).html (6 of 11) [4/8/2003 16:56:39] . The lucid dreamers are masters of their own dream world. though some people have the ability in a regular and pronounced form: they are the Neos of our ordinary human Matrix—the ones (or Ones) who can take control of their dreams away from the grip of the unconscious dream producer. But this doesn’t mean that they are not willed events.warnerbros. Instead of allowing the figures in http://whatisthematrix. In effect. Neo aspires to be—and eventually becomes—the lucid dreamer of the Matrix world: he can override the Matrix’s designs on his dream life and impose his own will on what he experiences. thus wresting control from the Matrix. are not the kind of thing over which one can have voluntary control. But there are also those infrequent cases in which we can assert conscious control over our dreams. they may be—and I think are—controlled by an unconscious will (with some narrative flair). He rewrites the program. just as the lucid dreamer can seize narrative control from his unconscious Matrix.

The Matrix of Dreams

his dreams to make him a victim of the Matrix’s designs, he can impose his own story line on them. This is how he finally vanquishes the hitherto invulnerable Agents: he makes them subject to his will—as all imaginary objects must in principle be, if the will is strong (and pure) enough. It is as if you were having an ordinary nightmare in which you are menaced by a monster, and you suddenly start to dream lucidly, so that you can now turn the tables on your own imaginative products. Neo is a dreamer who knows it and can control it: he is not taken in by the verisimilitude of the dream, cowed by it. It is not that he learns how to dodge real bullets; he learns that the bullets that speed towards him are just negotiable products of his imagination. As Morpheus remarks, he won’t need to dodge bullets, because he will reach a level of understanding that allows him to recognize imaginary bullets for what they are. He becomes the ruler of his own imagination; he is the agent now, not the "Agents" (this is why the spoon-bending child says to him that it is not spoons that bend—"you bend"). And this is the freedom he seeks—the freedom to imagine what he wishes, to generate his own dreams. But all this makes sense only on the supposition that the Matrix is a dream machine, an imagination manipulator, not just a purveyor of sensory hallucinations.

II.

Cypher plays an interesting subsidiary philosophical role. As the Matrix raises the problem of our knowledge of the external world—might this all be just a dream?—Cypher raises the problem of other minds—can we know the content of someone else’s mind? Cypher is a cypher, i.e. someone whose thoughts and emotions are inscrutable to those around him. His comrades are completely wrong about what is in (and on) his mind. We could imagine another type of

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The Matrix of Dreams

Matrix story in which someone is surrounded by people who are not as they seem: either they have no minds at all or they have very different minds from what their behavior suggests. Again, massive error will be the result. And such error might lead to dramatic consequences: everyone around the person is really out to get him—his wife, friends, and so on. But this is concealed from him. Or he might one day discover that he is really surrounded by insentient robots—so that his wife was always faking it (come to think of it, she always seemed a little mechanical in bed). This is another type of philosophical dystopia, trading upon the problem of knowing other minds. Cypher hints at this kind of problem, with his hidden interior. The Agents, too, raise a problem of other minds, because they seem on the borderline of mentality: are they just insentient (virtual) machines or is there some glimmer of consciousness under that hard carapace of software? And how was it known that AI was really sentient, as opposed to being a very good simulacrum of mindedness? Even if you know there is an external world, how can you be sure that it contains other conscious beings? These skeptical problems run right through The Matrix. Cypher also raises a question about the pragmatic theory of truth. He declares that truth is an overrated commodity; he prefers a good steak, even when it isn’t real. So long as he is getting what he wants, having rewarding experiences, he doesn’t care whether his beliefs are true. This raises in a sharp form the question of what the value of truth is anyway, given that in the Matrix world it is not correlated with happiness. But it also tells us that for a belief to be true cannot be for it to produce happiness (the pragmatic theory of truth, roughly) since Cypher will be happy in the dream world of the Matrix without his beliefs being true—and he is not happy in the real world where his beliefs are true. Truth is correspondence to reality, not whatever leads to subjective desire satisfaction. Cypher implicitly rejects the pragmatic theory of truth, and
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The Matrix of Dreams

as a result cannot see why truth-as-correspondence is worth having at the expense of happiness. And indeed he has a point here: what is the value of truth once it has become detached from the value of happiness? Is it really worth risking one’s life merely in order to ensure that one’s beliefs are true—instead of just enjoying what the dreams of the Matrix have to offer? Is contact with brutish reality worth death, when virtual reality is so safe and agreeable? Which is better: knowledge or happiness? When these are pulled apart, as they are in the Matrix, which one should we go with? The rebel humans want to get to Zion (meaning "sanctuary" or "refuge"), but isn’t the Matrix already a type of Zion—yet without the dubious virtue of generating true beliefs? What’s so good about reality?

III.

I want to end this essay by relating The Matrix (the movie) to my general theory of what is psychologically involved in watching and becoming absorbed in a movie. In brief, I hold that watching a movie is like being in a dream; that is, the state of consciousness of being absorbed in a movie resembles and draws upon the state of consciousness of the dreamer.3 The images of the dream function like the images on the screen: they are not "realistic" but we become fictionally immersed in the story being told. In my theory this is akin to the hypnotic state—a state of heightened suggestibility in which we come to believe what there is no real evidence for. Mere images command our belief, because we have entered a state of hyper-suggestibility. When the lights go down in the theater this simulates going to sleep, whereupon the mind becomes prepared to be absorbed in a fictional product—as it does when we enter the dream state. In neither case are we put into a state of consciousness

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The Matrix of Dreams

that imitates or duplicates the perceptual state of seeing and hearing the events of the story; it is not that it is as if we are really seeing flesh and blood human beings up on the screen (as we would with "live" actors on a stage)—nor do we interpret the screen images in this way. Rather, we imagine what is represented by these images, just as we use imagination to dream. Now what has this got to do with The Matrix? The film is about dreaming; most of what we see in it occurs in dreams. So when we watch the movie we enter a dream state that is about a dream state; we dream of a dream. I believe that the movie was made in such a way as to simulate very closely what is involved in dreaming, as if aiming to evoke the dream state in the audience. It is trying to put the audience in the same kind of state of mind as the inhabitants of the Matrix, so that we too are in our own Matrix—the one created by the filmmakers. The Wachowski brothers are in effect occupying the role of the machines behind the Matrix—puppeteers of the audience’s movie dreams. They are our dream designers as we enter the world of the movie. The specific aspects of the movie that corroborate this are numerous, but I think it is clear that the entire texture of the movie is dreamlike. There is the hypnotic soundtrack, which helps to simulate the hypnotic fascination experienced by the dreamer. There is a powerful impression of paranoia throughout the film, which mirrors the paranoia of so many dreams: who is my enemy, how can he identified, what is he going to do to me? Characters are stylized and symbolic, as they often are in dreams, representing some emotional pivot rather than a three-dimensional person (this is very obvious for the Agents). There is a lot of striking metamorphosis, which is very characteristic of dreams: one person changing into another, Neo’s mouth closing over, bulges appearing under the skin. There is also fear of heights, a very common form of anxiety dream (I have these all the time). Defiance of gravity is also an extremely common
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The Matrix of Dreams

dream theme, as with dreams of flying—and this is one of the first tricks Neo masters. My own experience of the movie is that it evokes in me an exceptionally pronounced dreamy feeling; and this of course enables me to identify with the inhabitants of the Matrix. So I see the film as playing nicely into my dream theory of the movie-watching experience. In this respect I would compare it to The Wizard of Oz, which is also about entering and exiting a dream world—though a very different one. In the end Dorothy prefers reality to the consolations of dreaming, just as the rebels in the Matrix do. Both films tap powerfully into the dream-making faculty of the human mind. This is why they are among the most psychologically affecting of all the movies that have been made: they know that the surest way to our deepest emotions is via the dream. And it is their very lack of "realism" that makes them so compelling—because that, too, is the essential character of the dream.

Colin McGinn

Footnotes
1. Early on in the movie a guy refers to Neo as his own "personal Jesus Christ". Cypher says, "You scared the bejesus out of me" when Neo surprises him. Mouse says, "Jesus Christ, he’s fast" while Neo is being trained. Trinity says, "Jesus Christ, they’re killing him" while Neo is getting pummeled by the Agents. And his civilian name, "Anderson", suggests the antecedent cognomen "Christian". 2. This is forthcoming from Harvard University Press, 2003; full title Mindsight: Image, Dream, Meaning. 3. I am working on a book about this, tentatively entitled Screen Dreams.

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In that case most of our beliefs about reality would be false. in a surprising reversal.warnerbros. since all we ever experience are our own inner mental states. and our contact with the real world.The Brave New World The Matrix1 raises several familiar philosophical problems in such fascinating new ways that . students all over the country are assigning it to their philosophy professors. We think that The Matrix 's account of our situation is even more disturbing than these options suggest. for all we could tell. The Myth of the Inner Thanks to Descartes. we'd like to explore two questions raised in Christopher Grau’s three essays on the film. rather than facing painful reality. all brains in vats. Only then will we be in a position to take up Grau's question as to why we feel it is somehow morally better to face the truth than to live in an illusory world that makes us feel good. be living in an illusion created by a malicious demon.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dreyfus. Having done our homework. I. So in choosing to return from the "desert of the real" to the Matrix world. That leads Grau to question the rationality of Cypher’s choice to live in an illusory world of pleasant experiences. Grau points out that The Matrix dramatizes René Descartes’ worry that. The Matrix is a vivid illustration of Descartes’ additional mind blowing claim that we could never be in direct touch with the real world (if there is one) because we are. we might . Cypher is merely choosing between two sets of systematic appearances. in fact. we moderns have to face the question: how can we ever http://whatisthematrix. To counter these disturbing ideas we have to rethink what we mean by experience. illusion.html (1 of 21) [4/8/2003 16:56:59] .

Descartes then used reports of people with a phantom limb to call into question even our seemingly direct experience of our own bodies. he declared himself "convinced that I cannot have any knowledge of what is outside me except through the mediation of the ideas that I have in me. For example. The Homeric Greeks thought that human beings had no private life to speak of. He writes: I have been assured by men whose arm or leg has been amputated that it still seemed to them that they occasionally felt pain in the limb they had lost—thus giving me grounds to think that I could not be quite certain that a pain I endured was indeed due to the limb in which I seemed to feel it. he points out that St. http://whatisthematrix.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dreyfus. St. but his voice was silent and his tongue was still. according to Descartes. Ambrose was remarkable in that he read to himself. he called attention to the fact that one did not have to read out loud. In one of his letters. it has not always been taken seriously. In his Confessions. Our access to the world is always indirect.warnerbros. Homer considered it one of Odysseus’ cleverest tricks that he could cry inwardly while his eyes remained like horn. All their feelings were expressed publicly."3 The idea that each of us has an inner life made up of our private thoughts and feelings didn’t really take hold until early in the 17th century when Descartes introduced the modern distinction between the contents of the mind and the rest of reality. the objective external world.The Brave New World get outside of our private inner experiences so as to come to know the things and people in the public external world? While this seems an important question to us now. all each of us can directly experience is the content of our own mind.2 A thousand years later. his eyes scanned the page and his heart explored the meaning. "When he read. Augustine had to work hard to convince them otherwise."4 Thus. people still had no sense of the importance of their inner life.5 For all we could ever know.html (2 of 21) [4/8/2003 16:56:59] . Descartes concluded.

whether the world and other minds existed or not. like Descartes. which gets no input from objects or other embodied people because there aren’t any. if one paid careful attention to one’s experience.6 A monad is a self-contained world of experience. creating the illusion of a shared real world. that one could bracket the world and other minds altogether since all that was given to us directly. since these representations had a common cause. was the contents of our own "transcendental consciousness. contested the Cartesian view that our contact with the world and even our own bodies is mediated by internal mental content. may not exist.7 In the early twentieth century. the founder of phenomenology."8 Only recently have philosophers begun to take issue with this powerful Cartesian conviction. the temporally evolving content of each monad is synchronized with the evolving content of all the other monads by God.html (3 of 21) [4/8/2003 16:56:59] . all we can be certain of is our subjective inner life. Immanuel Kant argued that human beings could never know reality as it is in itself but only their own mental representations. one would see that. Edmund Husserl. Starting in the 1920s existential phenomenologists such as Martin Heidegger9 in Germany and Maurice Merleau-Ponty10 in France. but. we deal directly with the things and http://whatisthematrix. This Cartesian conclusion was taken for granted by thinkers in the West for the next three centuries. They pointed out that. Gottfried Leibniz postulated that each of us is a windowless monad. A generation after that.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dreyfus. at a level of involvement more basic than thought. in opposition to Husserl. He held. A generation after Descartes.warnerbros. Rather. these experiences were coordinated with the mental representations of all the others to produce what he called the phenomenal world. was more solipsistic.The Brave New World including our body.

but I could be mistaken for a while.html (4 of 21) [4/8/2003 16:56:59] . even in the absence of that thing. It’s hard to see how I could succeed in getting around in a city or playing football without the existence of the city or the ball. This is not to say that we can’t be mistaken. they include the object. II.The Brave New World people that make up our world. I may have to retroactively cross off what I seemingly encountered and adopt a new readiness (itself corrigible) to encounter a façade rather than the house I was set to deal with. which can exist independently of its referent. At the basic level of involved skillful coping. As Charles Taylor. It suggests a more convincing condition– one that http://whatisthematrix. On the contrary it shows that The Matrix has gone further than philosophers who hold we can’t get outside our mind. my coping abilities cannot be actualized or even entertained in the absence of what I am coping with. Brains in Vats So it looks like the inner/outer distinction introduced by Descartes holds only for thoughts. the corresponding suggestion would be absurd. puts it: My ability to get around this city. in the face of my failure to cope successfully. one is simply what Merleau-Ponty calls an empty head turned towards the world. unlike mental content.11 In general. but not between my dealing with the object and that object. It may make sense to ask us to focus on what we believe about something.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dreyfus. as when I mistake a façade for a house.warnerbros. But this doesn’t at all show that The Matrix is old fashioned or mistaken. We can draw a neat line between my picture of an object and that object. this house comes out only in getting around this city and house. The actions involved in the game can't be done without the object. Then. the leading contemporary exponent of this view. say a football. but when it comes to playing football.

to interact with. as long as the impulses to and from our nervous system copy the complex feedback loop between the brain’s out-going behavior-producing impulses and the incoming perceptual ones. the sense organs themselves were being understood as transducers bringing information to the brain. Yet. there would be no house and no city."12 Likewise. in the brain in the vat case. The inner electrical impulses are the http://whatisthematrix. So.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dreyfus. even if phenomenologists like Heidegger.The Brave New World Descartes pioneered but didn't develop – that we can’t get outside our brain. It was no accident that Descartes proclaimed the priority of the inner in the 17th Century. and so we would be confined to our inner experiences after all.warnerbros. At the same time. what you can taste and see.html (5 of 21) [4/8/2003 16:56:59] . what you can smell. it still seems plausible to suppose that. indeed. Descartes pioneered this research with an account of how the eye responded to light energy from the external world and passed the information on to the brain by means of "the small fibers of the optic nerve. Descartes used the phantom limb phenomenon to argue that other nerves brought information about the body to the brain and from there the information passed to the mind.13 we can never be in direct contact with the world or even with our own bodies. we would have the experience of directly coming to grips with things in the world. At that time. Merleau-Ponty. instruments like the telescope and microscope were extending human being’s perceptual powers. then "real" is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain… But this Cartesian conclusion is mistaken. It seemed to follow that. and Taylor seem right that we are not confined to our inner experiences. no real world. since we are each a brain in a cranial vat. As Morpheus says to Neo in the construct: How do you define "real"? If you're talking about what you can feel.

That brain is http://whatisthematrix.warnerbros. What the phenomenologist can and should claim is that. but we aren’t our brain.The Brave New World causal basis of what one can feel and taste. even if another body they can't even imagine has in its skull the brain that is the causal basis of their experience. Thus. wouldn’t each brain in the Matrix construct have a lot of false beliefs.html (6 of 21) [4/8/2003 16:56:59] . Yet. my pain is not in my brain but in my phantom hand. Even in the Matrix world. Likewise.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dreyfus. not in the foot of a body in a vat – a foot that is not damaged and about which he knows nothing at all. but we don’t feel and taste them. If the ordinary Matrix dweller has a pain in his damaged foot it’s in his Matrix foot. the people who live in the Matrix have no other source of experience than what happens in the Matrix. a person in the Matrix has no beliefs at all about his vat-enclosed body and brain and couldn’t have any. They are people who grew up in the Matrix world and their experience of their Matrix body and how to use it makes that body their body. each of us has a brain in his or her skull and the brain provides the causal basis of our experience. in a Matrix world where bodies are in vats. Even if I have only a phantom limb. It’s a mistake to think that each of us is experiencing a set of neural firings in a brain in a cranial vat. and need baseballs to bring out their batting skill. the Matrix people whose brains are getting computer generated inputs and responding with action outputs. which has its causal basis in bodies in vats outside that world. the people in the Matrix world are not brains in vats any more than we are. even in the Matrix. After all. are directly coping with perceived reality. Thus coping. people directly cope with chairs by sitting on them. is more direct than conceived of by any of the inner/outer views of the mind's relation to the external world that have been held from Descartes to Husserl. True. for example that its Matrix body is its real body whereas its real body is in a vat? No. and that that reality isn't inner.

15 Kant claims we experience a public. that germs cause disease. and in that sense true.warnerbros. and so forth. and the world may be shared and reliable. the brain in the vat started life as a baby brain and could have been given any content the AI programmers chose. and science then relates http://whatisthematrix. and of chairs. as philosophers.html (7 of 21) [4/8/2003 16:56:59] . People don’t normally have explicit beliefs about the nature of causality. Rather. Aren’t all these beliefs false? That depends on their understanding of causality. Since the only body a Matrix dweller sees and moves is the one he has in the Matrix world. however. and given him the Matrix body of a tall African-American. Unless they are philosophizing.14 But there is still at least one problem. but what about the causal beliefs of the people in the Matrix? They believe. If. then their causal beliefs would be true of the causal relations in the Matrix world. the AI programmers could have given him a Matrix body radically unlike the body in the vat. and gravity causes things to fall. But if they claim that our belief in causality is simply our response to the constant conjunctions of experiences as David Hume did. The Matricians' beliefs about the properties and uses of their perceived bodies. that the sun causes things to get warm. cities. After all. objective world. they just count on it behaving in a consistent way so that they can cope with things successfully. they are mistaken. as we do. or our positing of universal laws relating experiences as Kant held. they do not believe that the world is real or that it is an illusion. they simply take for granted a shared sense that they are coping with a shared world whose contents are causing their experience. they believe that there is a physical universe with causal powers that makes things happen in our world.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dreyfus. They could have taken a white baby who was going to grow up short and fat.The Brave New World merely the unknowable causal basis of that person’s experiences.

But that doesn’t mean he had a lot of false beliefs about his body and the world when he was in the Matrix. are false just because they are about phenomena and do not and cannot correspond to things in themselves. he has a broader view of reality and sees that his previous understanding was limited. So Kant says we can know the phenomenal world of objects and their lawlike relations but we can’t know the things in themselves that are the ground of these appearances. most of their beliefs would be true. that they couldn't know the basis of their shared experience of the world and universe. And. didn’t claim to know about things in themselves. Specifically. if there are Kantians in the Matrix world.warnerbros. and understand too that they couldn’t know things in themselves that are the ground of these appearances. So. Once Neo’s body is flushed out of the vat and is on the hovercraft. They would understand that they are experiencing a coordinated system of appearances. In The Matrix one can come to know reality. we experience the world as in space and time but things in themselves aren’t in space and time.html (8 of 21) [4/8/2003 16:56:59] . but we can’t know the causal ground of the phenomena we perceive. the Matrix philosophy obviously does not subscribe to the Kantian view that we can never know things in themselves. He didn’t think about these philosophical questions at all. he has a lot of new true beliefs about his former vat-enclosed body -. as long as Kantians. everyone in the Matrix.The Brave New World these appearances by rules we call laws. Kantians don’t hold that our shared and tested beliefs about the world. Nonetheless. indeed. The Matricians are in the same epistemological position that we all are in according to Kant.beliefs he didn’t have and http://whatisthematrix. and.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dreyfus. most of their beliefs would be true. But once he is out. that is. according to Kant. and scientists’ confirmed beliefs about the universe.

Neo’s current beliefs might still all be false. once he is on the hovercraft. His experience is. and the AI programmers might now be feeding that brain the experience of being outside the Matrix and in the hovercraft. as in waking from a dream. http://whatisthematrix. In this way. our coping experience is sensitive to the causal powers of these boundary conditions.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dreyfus. or whether the boundary conditions and the causal structures discovered by science are both the effect of an unknowable thing in itself that is the ground of appearances as postulated by Kant. for example. They can. But Neo. those who have been hauled from the vat into what they experience as the real world can see that much of what they took for granted about the basis of their experience before was mistaken. after all. sustained by a brain in a skull in a vat. things are not so simple. in The Matrix version of the brain in the vat situation.html (9 of 21) [4/8/2003 16:56:59] . the most we can be sure of is that our coping experience reveals that we are directly up against some boundary conditions independent of our coping — boundary conditions with which we must get in sync in order to cope successfully.16 We have seen that existential phenomenologists acknowledge that we are sometimes mistaken about particular things and have to retroactively take back our set to cope with them. or whether the cause of all appearances is a computer. we only do so in terms of a new and better prima facie contact with reality. Of course. Whether these independent causal conditions have the structure of an independent physical universe discovered by science. But.warnerbros. Likewise. understand that what they took to be a world that had been around for millions of years was a recently constructed computer program.The Brave New World couldn’t have had while in the Matrix. is something we could never know from inside our world. as Merleau-Ponty and Taylor add. Given the conceivability of the brain in the vat fantasy. does know that. his current understanding of reality supercedes and crosses out his former one.

These correlations produce a powerful http://whatisthematrix.html (10 of 21) [4/8/2003 16:56:59] . Part of the power comes from the way the inputs and outputs from the computer are plugged directly in the brain’s sensory motor-system. they can be selfish like Cypher and betray their friends. is justified.warnerbros. It doesn’t seem to be a question of whether one should face the truth rather than live in an illusion. The Matricians are dealing with real people. and they can try to provide for the future happiness of those they love. when they sit on a chair it usually supports them.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dreyfus. say walking inside a house. even if this is a phenomenal world. if anything. most of the beliefs of the average Matrician are true. and they can cope by acting in some ways and not others.The Brave New World III. A New Brave New World We are now in a position to understand and try to answer Cypher’s question: Why live in the miserable world the war has produced rather than in a satisfying illusion? Some answers just won't do. Likewise. is wrong with the Matrix world. When we experience ourselves as acting in a certain way. None of the above concerns seem to give us a grip on what. living in the Matrix world does not seem to be less moral than living in our everyday world. people have bodies that can be injured. Indeed. To understand what's wrong with living in the Matrix we have to understand the source of the power of the Matrix world. Even their background sense that in their actions they are coping with something independent of them and that others are coping with it too. and they are free to choose what they will do. a world of appearances. As we have seen. or they can be loyal to their friends like Trinity. when they enter a house they see the inside. the computer gives us the correlated experiences of seeing the interior. most of our beliefs would still be true. Kant argued.

since causality is not built into our perceptual system. if one believes that one can stop bullets. when one's brain gives out the neural output for the action of bending the spoon.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dreyfus. This is a literal example of what Morpheus calls "bending the rules.html (11 of 21) [4/8/2003 16:56:59] ." Likewise. "It is all in your mind. To take a simple example. How this suspension of causality is supposed to work in not explained in the film. one can violate the Matrix’s causal laws. The inputs to the perceptual system of the brain in the vat produce the perceptual world whether we believe it is real or not. but. once one realizes that the causality in the Matrix world is only virtual. one is free from the causal consequences. if he wants to.The Brave New World perceptual effect that is impervious to what we believe. he could bend spoons." If one doesn’t believe in the causal laws governing appearances. the computer is forced to give back the visual input that the spoon is bending. Morpheus tells Neo. one will look for them where one stopped them and the computer will obediently display them there.warnerbros. Neo doesn't directly see things differently – the impulses to his brain still control what he sees18 – but he is able to choose to do things that he couldn’t do before (like choose to stop bullets) and that affects what he sees (the bullets stop). if one doesn't believe in the existence of a spoon. after he learns the Matrix world is an illusion. like the wrap-around IMAX illusion that forces one to sway to keep one’s balance on a skateboard even though one knows one is sitting in a stationary seat watching a movie.17 About the causal principles governing the Matrix world. or just as the moon looks bigger on the horizon even though we know it isn’t. So. One's disbelief in the illusion somehow forces the computer to give one the experience one wills to have. http://whatisthematrix. Neo can fly. By the end of the movie.

Nietzsche points out that human beings are normally socialized into obeying shared. More generally. if you fall you will get hurt. social norms. As he puts it. and consequently keep doing (and not doing) what one does and doesn't do. even though there are no such constraints? If it isn’t just that they are locked into the sensory motor correlations of their perceptual world. communities. states. that nothing has been exercised and cultivated better and longer among men than obedience. The Matrix can be seen as an attack on what Nietzsche calls herd mentality.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dreyfus. there have also been herds of men (clans. It seems that the Matrix simply takes advantage of a sort of mind control already operating in the everyday world. We are told that what keeps people from taking control of the Matrix world is their taking for granted the common sense view of how things behave.19 It must be some sort of mind control. Thus.. what sort of control is it? It has to be some sort of control of the Matricians' intellectual powers — powers which we learn early on in the movie are free from the control of direct sensory-motor computer correlations. "as long as there have been humans. and that it is hard to think differently. is the source of sinister power of the Matrix world that keeps people conforming to the supposed constraints of a causal universe. .20 Aldous Huxley similarly lamented the conformity of the brainwashed masses in Brave New World.html (12 of 21) [4/8/2003 16:56:59] . and one goes out the door rather than the window. one may fairly assume that the need for it is now innate in the average man. (As in one eats peas with a fork. churches) and always a great many people who obey."21 http://whatisthematrix. what keeps people in line is their tendency to believe what the average person believes.warnerbros. such as. peoples.. then. one doesn’t throw food at the dinner table.The Brave New World What. then. considering.) Heidegger describes the resulting conformism as letting oneself be taken over by "the one" (Das Man). tribes.

IV.warnerbros. there are all those mentions of Jesus in connection with Neo collected by Colin McGinn. How fitting then that a barely expressible unease seems to pervade Neo's life — an anxiety that prompts him to begin the process of breaking free by subverting the system. in which what we take to be reality turns out to be a http://whatisthematrix. According to Heidegger it takes an attack of anxiety." But most people flee the thought that their conformist world lacks something important. It is important to understand that Heidegger's anxiety is not the wringing of hands that we witness in the everyday world. And waking seems to be more than becoming a non-conformist.The Brave New World Waking in the movie. Buddhist. to jolt someone out of the herd.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dreyfus. A Really Brave New World One might reasonably object that all the dreaming talk in the film. but what kind? It’s tempting to think that The Matrix is a Gnostic. It is a feeling of the weirdness of the world. amounts to freeing oneself from the taken for granted norms that one has been brought up to accept. But how is this possible? Heidegger claims that everyone dimly senses that there is more to life than conforming. then.html (13 of 21) [4/8/2003 16:56:59] . or Platonic/Christian parable. Finally. "it's like a splinter in your mind.22 There can be no doubt that Neo is meant to be a kind of Savior. he falls to the floor and throws up. you know there is something lacking in this world. When he hears that the world he has been taking for granted is a computer simulation used to turn people into energy resources. is too strong a religious metaphor to refer merely to what Heidegger calls living a tranquilized existence in the one. After all. As Morpheus says to Neo. Neo has a dramatic version of an anxiety attack. the experience that none of the takenfor-granted normal ways of seeing and doing things have any basis. even if it should not be literal.

and stop bullets. at the end of the film.warnerbros. but his "resurrection" in the hovercraft is not into a world where death has been overcome by a miraculous divine love. get out of line. People will have earth-bound. In the real world to which Neo "awakes" and into which he will. Neo would lead people out of the illusions of Plato’s cave.The Brave New World dream.23 But such flying takes place in the Matrix world. is the most serious constraint that normally limits people's freedom. and death.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dreyfus. and we are led to wake from the world of appearances to some kind of higher spiritual reality.html (14 of 21) [4/8/2003 16:56:59] . So he still has his vulnerable body and will have to die a real death one day. What he presumably has gotten over is not death but the herd’s fear of death. In the film. the ones who see through the Matrix can get over some of the limitations of having a body as exemplified by their flying. the conformist Matrix world is a sort of tranquilizing illusion promoted by the Artificial Intelligences. in the Matrix the Agents take care of those who. But if bending the rules that are accepted by the average person just amounts to being able to bend spoons. thereby overcoming what. True. bad food. like Neo. as if Neo evades death. salvation means the absolute opposite of the traditional religious vision. or the darkness of the world into a higher disembodied life. he has been saved by an earthly intervention — a sort of tender CPR — quite within the bounds of physics and chemistry. we suppose. On this reading. there will be no more flying. and we know that. But this association would be all wrong! True. fly. rather. It may look. But this does not mean learning that our mortal bodies are a cover-up and that salvation consists in leaving our vulnerable bodies behind in exchange for some kind of eternal life. it doesn’t seem any kind of http://whatisthematrix. according to Heidegger. And we are led to expect that Neo will lead people out of it. vulnerable bodies and suffer cold. eventually lead everyone. the veil of Maya.

each with its own understanding of human nature. to determine what human beings need beyond http://whatisthematrix. But doesn’t this just show. with Descartes and Kant. So. the goal was to purify one's desires and to read the text of God's world in order to know God’s will. are egocentric hedonists trying to get the most out of their possibilities by maximizing the quality of their private experiences. As the history of the West suggests. in the Postmodern World. that there is no human nature? Here Heidegger makes an important meta-move. and. in the Christian World. we need an account of human nature. Being creative must mean more than just being disruptive.warnerbros.24 We are lead to expect that. there are many different cultures. many people. Perhaps human beings are essentially world disclosers. our nature is to be able to open up new worlds and so to transform what is currently taken to be our nature. in the Hebrew World one had to obey God’s law and to govern all other creatures. as Sartre famously observed. selfcontrolled subjects organizing and controlling objects and their own inner lives. and thereby treating themselves as resources.The Brave New World salvation. so we can understand what human beings need that the Matrix world fails to provide.html (15 of 21) [4/8/2003 16:56:59] . in return for accepting everyday vulnerability and suffering. like Cypher.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dreyfus. What mattered in the world of Homer was to be a hero and collect beautifully crafted artifacts. Even our own culture has experienced many different worlds created by new interpretations of human nature and the natural world that changed what counted as human beings and things. While now. people in the Modern World became autonomous. the people liberated by Neo will be reborn to a new and better life. But what sort of life is that? To account for why it is admirable to confront risky reality rather than remain in the safe and tranquilized Matrix whatever the quality of experience in each. in our pluralistic world. But.

we understand why it’s better to be in the real world than in the Matrix."25 Jesus created a new world by defining us in terms of our desires rather than our actions. who create themselves. Martin Luther King Jr. As he says to the AI intelligences at the end of the film. A sense of the limit on our possibilities is what Neo experiences as the splinter in the mind. http://whatisthematrix. Once we experience world disclosing.26 It is just such a freedom to open up new worlds that the Matrix world lacks. unique. “I know you are afraid…of change. So it makes no sense to think that a computer could be programmed with rules for producing the sensory-motor connections that would allow the creation of all possible worlds in advance of their being opened by human beings.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dreyfus. and Descartes invented the inner and so helped disclose the Modern World. not just breaking the rules of the current game but inventing new games. who give themselves laws. it looks like we have to turn to the Heideggerian point that what is missing in the Matrix is the possibility of going beyond conventional preprogrammed reality and opening up new worlds. programmed creativity is an oxymoron.html (16 of 21) [4/8/2003 16:56:59] . that would explain why we feel a special joy when we are opening new worlds. Each world exists only once it is disclosed. incomparable. opened a new world for Afro-Americans.warnerbros. and holds that this freedom implies that there is no fixed pre-existent set of possible worlds.”27 Heidegger thinks that our freedom to disclose new worlds is our special human freedom.The Brave New World just breaking out of the banal. even if. Artificial intelligences couldn't program for such a radically open world if they wanted to. in the world of the Matrix. one can enjoy steak and good wine. Real salvation comes from transcending the world foreclosing limits of the Matrix program. On a less dramatic scale. If being world disclosers is our nature. Nietzsche says we should "become those we are — human beings who are new. In fact.

He has to do the job that Heidegger thinks anxiety does: he has to show the people in the Matrix that the order they take for granted is ungrounded and so can be creatively changed. however. there are two more movies to come. As he says. Neo as the One (or the anti-one as Heidegger would see it). has only begun freeing the people in the Matrix from their conformism by showing them that they have the freedom to bend the rules. but that wouldn't set the free — not as long as they saw only the possibilities that one normally sees and never experienced anxiety. is not whether most of our beliefs are true. or whether we are brave enough to face a risky reality. If the Matricians were simply the victims of the Matrix computer program in that they had false beliefs about the causal basis of their experiences. Names in the movie are generally very well chosen. freed them from the Matrix by showing them how to open new worlds. A world where everything is possible. Neo has to do more.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dreyfus.warnerbros.html (17 of 21) [4/8/2003 16:56:59] . We can hope that. before number three is over. Neo could show them that their beliefs about the causal basis of things were false and teach them to agree with Kant that the world is an appearance.The Brave New World What’s ultimately important to us. “I’m going to.” And by the end of the movie. The way the word "matrix" refers both to the womb and to an array of numbers works perfectly. but whether we are locked into a world of routine. Neo will get to Zion and lead people in disclosing a really brave new world. Likewise. of course. show these people a world without rules and control. Hubert Dreyfus and Stephen Dreyfus Endnotes 1. standard activities or are free to transform the world and ourselves. But. He has not. then. Neo is both a neophyte and http://whatisthematrix.

11. 9. The Matrix programmers can’t give a human being a dog’s body. As Leibniz put it: A monad has no windows.. See. MA: M. according to Leibniz. Gottfried Leibniz. A monad. whose basic properties are a function of its inner perceptions and appetites.T. The Monadology and Other Philosophical Writings (London: Oxford University Press). Charles Taylor." Descartes: Philosophical Writings. the Homeric Greeks must have had some sort of private feelings for Odysseus to perform this trick. 7. As far as we know. 114. 1961). Rather. Phenomenology of Perception. 1990).S. trans. Body and World (Cambridge. See. The point has been made explicitly by John Searle: "[E]ach of us is precisely a brain in a vat. 14. Dorion Cairns (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. l961). Press. "Imagine how his heart ached …and yet he never blinked. Critique of Pure Reason." Philosophical Arguments (Cambridge. Saint Augustine. "Dioptric. 1960). there is no other reference to private feelings in Homer.html (18 of 21) [4/8/2003 16:56:59] . 12. The Odyssey. René Descartes. It’s also unlikely they could make a brain in a female body the causal basis of a man’s body in http://whatisthematrix. Robinson (New York: Harper Collins. and future events. English in Descartes: Philosophical Letters. 98. 2001). The only way to make some sense of the name is to think of the Greek god. 1898. Martin Heidegger. trans. and trans. He had this trick—wept.warnerbros. is an immaterial entity lacking spatial parts. 1950).com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dreyfus. Smith (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Meditations VI". not as the producer of dreams. there are many public displays of emotions. Immanuel Kant. trans. There are limits of course. The Greek Morpheus is the god of dreams but the Morpheus in the movie is trying to wake people up. trans. 1983). 123. 4. but they thought the inner was rare and usually trivial. in Essential Works of Descartes. 8. l958). Anthony Kenny (Oxford University Press 1970). René Descartes. 2. Letter to Gibieuf of 19 January 1642.The Brave New World the one who will renew the world. if he willed to. 5.I. Macquarrie & E. Pine-Coffin (Penguin. 150. These names are so fitting one can’t help looking for the aptness of the name. Samuel Todes. but it is hard to find. but as the one who has power over dreams: both to give them and to take them away. Norman Kemp Smith (Modern Library. 13. Lowell Bair (New York: Bantam Books. inwardly. monsters. the vat is a skull and the 'messages' coming in are coming in by way of impacts on the nervous system. 1962). trans. 3. Robert Fitzgerald (New York: Vintage Classics. 1995). ed. and shared visions of gods. trans. C. 230. Of course. 12. "Meditations on First Philosophy . 1962). Being and Time. 10. MA: Harvard University Press. R. 6. Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology. Maurice Merleau-Ponty. trans. Morpheus. Norman Kemp Smith (New York: The Humanities Press. trans. J. 360.. "Overcoming Epistemology. Confessions. Edmund Husserl." Intentionality: An essay in the philosophy of mind (Cambridge University Press." Homer. See also. his eyes might have been made of horn or iron.

if what we’ve been saying is right. as like waking from a dream. Given the conceivability of the brain in the vat fantasy. He could still be a brain in a vat fed the experience of being in the hovercraft. the most we can be sure of is that our coping experience reveals that we are directly up against some boundary conditions independent of our coping with which we must get in sync in order to act. it looks like their hovercraft body goes to sleep. as Neo does after the Agents take away his mouth. If rescued. The hormones of the body in the vat wouldn’t match the physical attributes of the body in the Matrix world. Whether these independent causal conditions have the structure of an independent physical universe discovered by science. But the brains in the vats are not literally dreaming.html (19 of 21) [4/8/2003 16:56:59] . 19. don't have this freedom. 16. 1980). When someone from the hovercraft returns to the Matrix world. his current understanding of reality supercedes and crosses out his former one. they held that theoretical entities are just convenient ways to refer to the data produced by experiments.The Brave New World the Matrix world. Or.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dreyfus. There is one unfortunate exception to this claim. such people would quite likely go crazy trying to reconcile the body they had experienced all their life with the alien body they found themselves in on the hovercraft. like empiricists. 18. Likewise. but they do not enter a private dream world but an alternative intersubjective world where they are normally wide awake. it makes no sense. It might seem that Agent Smith shows his freedom and deviates from his job of maintaining order in the Matrix when he tells Morpheus how disgusted he is with the Matrix world. Most people don’t have beliefs about the reality of the world. Neo learns he can stop believing in it. This new understanding of reality is described by Morpheus talking to Neo near the beginning of the movie. he should continue to see it.warnerbros. At the end of the movie. things are really not so simple. If the computer is still feeding systematic sensory-motor impulses into Neo’s brain when he is plugged into the Matrix world. The Agents. The Scientific Image (Oxford: Clarendon Press. See Bas van Frassen. nonetheless. who are computer programs. Granted it’s hard to resist believing in the Matrix illusion even where causality is concerned. We think it would be http://whatisthematrix. But Neo’s current beliefs could still be false. is something we could never know from inside our world. therefore. This is a powerful visual effect. but in which they can also seem to dream and wake from a dream. Their world is much too coherent and intersubjective to be a dream. they just take the world for granted. however. then he will see the world the program is producing in his visual system. They are not the result of a systematic correlation between input and output to the brain’s perceptual system that is meant to reproduce the consistent coordinated experience that we have when awake. What the sight of the rows of numbers is meant to do is to remind us that Neo no longer believes in the Matrix illusion but understands it is a program. been forced to raise the question. but. or even whether the cause of all appearances is a computer. dreams are the result of some quirk in our internal neural wiring and full of inconsistencies. or whether the boundary conditions and the causal structures discovered by science are the effect of an unknowable thing in itself that is the ground of appearances as postulated by Kant. their beliefs about entities such as viruses and black holes would be true if. although when dreaming we don’t usually notice them. and he believes he is now facing reality. Still. Neo catches a glimpse of the computer program behind the perceptual illusion. but even so. Of course. But Neo does know that. a good way for the AI programmers to prevent bodies being rescued to the hovercraft would be to give each brain the experience of a radically different body (within whatever limits are imposed by biology) in the Matrix world than the body that brain is actually in. as in waking from a dream. our coping experience is sensitive to the causal powers of these boundary conditions. Neo has. 17. to put it another way. 15. and by Neo at the end. and that.

(Vintage Books Edition. 24. The worst thing would be something political.I. etc.. unaware of their chains. 22. 1997). The Matrix is a computergenerated dream world. nor can he be in several places at once. Dreyfus. that we have to balance in a gravitational field.T Press. Not to be confused with Neo as "the One" who will save people from the Matrix. # 199. has broken every rule in the book. 26." http://whatisthematrix. trans. For Heidegger’s account of the power of the one. 25. That’s why Neo. They may be contented slaves. Colin McGinn's essay can be found here. 27. Pryor would have the right to say as he does: "In the movie. The way we experience time as moving into the future and leaving the past behind depends on the way our forward directed body leads us to approach objects and then pass them by. At the same time. but from the past? If. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. humans are all slaves. Morpheus says:"What is the Matrix? Control. and Hubert Dreyfus. in the movie. Body and World). Although being disruptive is the best one can do in the Matrix world. 21. as we often are in our dreams. Democratic Action. at the end of his essay. F. Given the kind of bodies we have: that we move forward more easily than backwards. 1966). and the Cultivation of Solidarity. we can question to what extant such body-relative constraints can be violated in The Matrix if what is going on is still to make sense. See Charles Spinosa. and also H. (See Todes. MA: The M. To test these limits. Fernando Flores. tried heroically to make sense of this claim by speculating on what the AI programmers might do to the Matrix dwellers. Could we make sense of a scene in which someone attacked an enemy not just from behind. 1991). is the natural candidate for savior. cope equally in all directions. in the movie. trying to get Morpheus to believe Smith is on his side. Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger's Being and Time. Disclosing New Worlds: Entrepreneurship. but the movie does not exploit this possibility. They're not in charge of their own lives. Friedrich Nietzsche. the liberated ones were free of all bodily constraints governing their action we couldn’t make sense of what they were doing and neither could they..Early in the film. March 1974). For example. # 335. will give Smith the access codes for Zion. Division I (Cambridge. Chapter 8. 20. but they're slaves nonetheless.html (20 of 21) [4/8/2003 16:56:59] . so that Morpheus.warnerbros. in his weakened state.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dreyfus. They have only a very limited ability to shape their own futures. the filmmakers occasionally blow our minds by using a wrap-around point of view from which action looks so far from normal as to be awesomely unintelligible. (Cambridge.] The worst thing about living in the Matrix would not be something metaphysical or epistemological. gravity can be overcome — Neo can fly — but he can’t see equally in all directions. [. a hacker who. If the machines had done any of these things. What would it look like for a single person to surround somebody? Time too has a body-relative structure that can’t be violated with impunity. 23. Walter Kaufman (New York: Vintage Books." and James Pryor. they have successfully met the challenge of discovering which body-relative invariances can be intelligibly violated and which can’t..The Brave New World consistent with the limitations of the Agents to understand this as Smith's playing the good cop routine. that we can only cope with what is in front of us. see his Being and Time. They wouldn’t be liberated but would be bewildered. Nietzsche. The Gay Science. It would be the fact that you're a slave. built to keep us under control. MA: MIT Press. as Agent Smith says.

they are not being controlled. http://whatisthematrix.a way of being the computers can't understand but dimly fear -. but freedom to change worlds. of course. there must be a master who controls what you can do or. nor (pace Morpheus and Pryor) political. and no one feels there is something morally wrong with our world because our DNA is using us to propagate itself. having no way to introduce radical freedom into their programs. if you knew you were in such a world you would want your freedom. Their "enslavement" in the Matrix is like our relation to our selfish genes. doesn't interact with the Matricians' psychic lives and doesn't limit what they can decide. likewise the simple fact that the bodies the Matricians are linked to are serving some purpose outside their lives can't be what's wrong with living in the Matrix. If you're a slave. indeed.warnerbros. The problem isn't epistemological. nor metaphysical. in any case. or what they can do. Having their causal basis used as a battery.The Brave New World But I fear that Morpheus is simply mistaken. and. By suppressing all unconventional behavior in their fear of change.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_dreyfus.html (21 of 21) [4/8/2003 16:56:59] .our ontological capacity for opening radically new worlds. Pryor rightly points out. at least concerning what has happened in the Matrix series thus far. in Brave New World. That is. but what Morpheus doesn't understand (and Pryor doesn't bring out) is that there is nothing in having your causal basis used as a battery that is essentially enslaving. although the Matricians' causal basis is being used to generate electricity. There is. a very subtle way that the AI computers have foreclosed the Matrix dweller's future but it is not by limiting the possibilities available to them in their world. that the AI intelligences could sabotage the Matricians' projects or reset their world back to 1980 if they so chose. and the outputs depend on the Matrix dwellers' decisions. who even controls what you want to do. however. It has to do not with freedom to choose in the current world. what they can desire. The problem is what Heidegger would call ontological. The limitation in question has nothing to do with being brains in vats as long as the inputs to the brains are modeled on the way things normally behave in the world. the AI intelligences have suppressed the Martricians' most essential human capacity . and.

html (1 of 20) [4/8/2003 16:57:32] . What is the Matrix? Morpheus tells Neo it’s a "computer-generated dreamworld. and just maybe.Never The Twain Shall Meet Did you know that the First Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world. in Sartre’s No Exit To deny our own impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human. Mouse. to Morpheus And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. it is. then even an apparently sub-optimal alternative like the Matrix might in fact be better. and there shall be no more death. Revelation 21:4.1 But what is the best sort of existence for individuals like you and me? Philosophy and religion both have attempted to answer this question.warnerbros. nor crying. he’s not so crazy. and I think The Matrix gives us an interesting way to frame it. to Neo Cypher chooses the Matrix. Agent Smith. Is some possible "real" existence better than any possible Matrix? Or is some possible Matrix better than any possible reality? With Mark Twain’s help. where none suffered. I shall present an argument that one important notion of the best existence. neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. The point of my polemical approach is not so much to criticize Christianity. all things considered. the Christian one. neither sorrow. If real life prospects are dim. Garcin. a http://whatisthematrix.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_hanley. in other words. Heaven is after all a Matrix." and a "neural. interactive simulation". but rather to bring the issue of the nature of ultimate value into sharper focus. where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. King James Bible Hell is—other people.

Current virtual environments are not very interactive in this sense. and it will simplify exposition to suppose that this is a necessary feature of a Matrix. we need a name for the one depicted in The Matrix. Since we’ll be discussing different kinds of Matrix. In the Second Matrix. Still. it is http://whatisthematrix. I’ll be concentrating on pure Matrices (and in the case of the Matrix depicted.2 Agent Smith assures Cypher that he won’t know he’s in the Matrix when he returns permanently.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_hanley. Communal Matrices differ in degree of human interaction. and if we ignore Agents. featuring real interaction between human beings—call this human interaction. Agent Smith refers to a First Matrix.) Real interactivity is the potential for interaction with others also engaged in virtual interaction. to seem real—at least compared with the more law-like external world. everyone is benighted. since the cognoscenti can enter it without being deceived into thinking it is real. then. there are two levels of "interactivity" in a virtual environment. and real interaction is the extent to which this potential is realized. your input. That’s what makes it seem so real.warnerbros. so let’s call the one we see the Second Matrix. and responds to. while being computergenerated is not. on the condition of the benighted). billions of humans share the environment. The Matrix depicted is a mixed case. believing it is the "real deal. Compare two kinds of possible Matrix: the Second Matrix is communal. too controllable. (For the cognoscenti the Second Matrix it is too virtually interactive. but the Second Matrix is. Virtual interactivity is the extent to which the environment allows. a solitary Matrix lacks human interaction altogether. at least to the benighted. is an interactive virtual environment involving systematic global deception." In most of what follows.html (2 of 20) [4/8/2003 16:57:32] . Let us stipulate that in a pure Matrix.Never The Twain Shall Meet virtual environment. A Matrix.

) Now we can compare three possibilities (obviously not exhaustive) for human existence. and human interaction during the sequence we see is limited to that between Neo and Morpheus. another Matrix-bound human shares that intercourse. and it would be teeming. where Morpheus and Neo watch TV. on the other hand. it’s not "big" enough to be very world-like. populated by other human beings: for instance. One is the real deal. then Twain and I both would have an experience of meeting. Three is an apparently http://whatisthematrix. another individual human being shares that intercourse. a virtual persona of a real human being. the fully communal Construct (loading program). If we removed the cognoscenti.Never The Twain Shall Meet fully communal—every virtual human in the Matrix is an avatar.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_hanley. virtual humans like the woman in the red dress are simulacra. If I have the experience of meeting Twain. and there is at least a meeting of minds. from another subjective point of view. physically and psychologically. but there is psychological intercourse. of course. a teeming Matrix. (The Second Matrix is all but teeming. sexual intercourse with them. There’s no physical intercourse. If I were to meet Mark Twain (through the time travel he wrote about.warnerbros. In the Matrix training program created by Mouse. if you subjectively experience having sexual intercourse with another human being. Two is a teeming Matrix: if you experience having (intraspecies!) sexual intercourse. so that human interaction is nearly inevitable.3 On yet another hand. and has many human participants. The same goes for nonsexual intercourse. there would be no need for Agents.html (3 of 20) [4/8/2003 16:57:32] . perhaps). assuming that it involves physical embodiment. because you really have physical. has no other virtual humans in it to interact with—and unlike the training program. then he (or some other human being) has the experience of meeting me-meetingTwain. not avatars. Call a fully communal Matrix that is big enough to be world-like. from another subjective point of view. and we really would meet.

and you really interact with other human beings.Never The Twain Shall Meet teeming.4 In the case of sex. it’s at least participation in a teeming Matrix. then there is no intercourse with another human being. But for his http://whatisthematrix. and so on. we prefer the real deal. and it still provides substantial interaction with other human beings. If I experience meeting Twain. Consider your present situation. no other human is having an interactive sexual experience with you—it is like taking up Mouse’s invitation to enjoy the woman in the red dress. solitary Matrix: if you experience having sexual intercourse. which shows that. that a certain sequence of physical events is occurring when it really isn’t. though in ignorance of the whole truth. there’s a good sense in which you really did have sex with that other person. You are either right now in a Matrix. without all the deception? Cypher can (and does) go back temporarily into the Matrix. or you aren’t. and neither Twain nor any other human being need have the experience of meeting me-meeting-Twain. but has more than a solitary Matrix.5 If connection with truth matters so much to us. Being in the real deal has two distinct features of apparent value: your beliefs are more connected to the truth. and so on. if your present existence is not the real deal. and it really is that time and place. except that you won’t know "she" is a simulacrum. why not have the best of both kinds of existence—why not have a virtual environment. Most of us hope we are not in a Matrix right now. A teeming Matrix has less connection with truth than the real deal.html (4 of 20) [4/8/2003 16:57:32] .com/rl_cmp/new_phil_hanley.warnerbros. where the experiences are identical in subjective character). other things being equal (that is. Our ordinary intuition is that there’s something valuable about the real deal that is missing in a Matrix. My hunch is that you also hope that. knowing what it is. and retain that knowledge while he is in there. thinking that it’s a certain time and place when it really isn’t.

Never The Twain Shall Meet

permanent stay he chooses ignorance instead, because "Ignorance is bliss." Presumably, the knowledge that he is not in the real deal would undermine his capacity to enjoy the experiences, so he can’t have the best of both worlds.6 Intuitively, Cypher is no different from the rest of us in this regard. For a typical man, the experience of sexual intercourse with the woman in the red dress is likely to be much more satisfying if he thinks it is the real deal. Which brings us to the First Matrix.

1. What is the First Matrix?

Agent Smith’s remark in the epigraph suggests that the First Matrix was, like the Second, more or less teeming.7 Agent Smith says about the "disaster":

Some believe that we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world, but I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.

The first suggestion is fascinating. Given the deadpan delivery, it is hard to say whether it posits a deficiency in the machines that designed the Matrix, or in us—in our notion of a perfect world. On the other hand, Agent Smith’s own thesis seems connected with a tradition of human thought concerning the theistic problem of evil. If a perfectly good God exists, why does evil exist? Why is the world full of sharp corners and other hazards? A standard answer is that evil is necessary—it must exist in order for certain goods to exist. For instance, it is often claimed that happiness requires suffering, though this is disputable. Even if creatures like us can’t be maximally happy, this is a reason for not creating us at all, and creating more felicitously instead. And does our happiness require so much suffering? Looking deeper, it seems clear that
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virtues like courage and generosity indeed require the existence of suffering. But vices such as cowardice and cruelty couldn’t exist without suffering, either—are they necessary evils, too? The most defensible theist answer to this question is a very subtle No, But— : God had a choice between creating a world with free beings in it, or not. This choice is easy, since free will is a surpassing good. But given libertarian free will, which requires causal indeterminism, God could not know without creating the world exactly which possible world would result.8 God might have gotten lucky, and created a world in which all free beings had only virtues, and no vices. But this is incredibly unlikely, as is a purely vicious world, and it’s no surprise that He got a mixed world, with most humans having virtues and vices. The picture that emerges is that a world with human beings in it is a world with sharp corners (natural evil) to provide genuine free choice, and so very likely contains sin (moral evil) as well. Call this the Free Will Theodicy. Its assumption that free will is libertarian free will—requiring causal indeterminism—is Christian orthodoxy, so I grant it for the sake of the argument. Filling in the details of the theodicy, focus on the will itself. Our actions are ultimately explained by what we want, most especially by our non-derived desires.9 In a world of sharp corners, not all these desires can be satisfied. Indeed, there often will be conflicts between individuals in what they desire—one person getting what they want means that another doesn’t. (Presumably, God could not arrange a concordance of wills—substituting for conflicting desires, or deleting them altogether—without eliminating free will.) Indeed, the existence of other human beings in the world is part of the "sharp corners"—a source of suffering— in addition to being a source of moral evil.

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And not just because others are in competition with you for resources—sometimes others are the resource, as the sexual intercourse example shows. If you badly want sex with another person and they badly don’t want it with you, then someone is going to suffer. If the Free Will Theodicy is correct, then God can only control the non-human environment. Each human being is a part of the environment of every other human being, so as soon as you put more than one creature with libertarian free will into the mix there will, absent astonishing coincidence, be tears. You can minimize the effect human beings have on each other, but only by minimizing their interaction (say, by putting each on a separate planet). Even then, as long as human beings desire interaction (as a means to things we want, such as to procreate, and perhaps even for its own sake), mere isolation won’t solve the problem. The creators of the First Matrix tried to produce a relatively good existence for Matrix-bound humans. (We needn’t suppose the machines were benevolent; perhaps the bioelectric-to-fusion reaction process is more efficient the happier humans are.) In doing so, the machine creators had some of God’s problems. They presumably lacked some of God’s creative abilities, but they also had fewer constraints, since God is supposed to be no deceiver.10 Why was the First Matrix a disaster? If the machines were trying to produce an existence with no human suffering, then perhaps they tried the wrong design: a teeming Matrix populated with otherwise typical human beings. Even if the machines removed a lot of sharp corners (no volcanic-eruption, or man-eating-shark experiences), as long as there is interaction with other human beings plugged into the same virtual environment, someone is going to suffer, as the example of sexual intercourse demonstrates. This attempt would not produce a Matrix

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where "none suffered," and the suggestion fits badly with Agent Smith’s remark, "No one would accept the programming." Let’s discard it. Which leaves two basic choices: the machines either substantially altered the nature of human beings in the First Matrix (say by arranging a concordance of wills), or else they created a solitary Matrix for each human being. The advantage of a solitary Matrix is that the virtual environment can be completely tailored to an individual’s desires—perhaps the Matrix "reads off" the content of desires from his brain, anticipating a little, matching its programming as far as possible to the satisfaction of his desires as they develop and change. Perhaps a battery of solitary Matrices was beyond the machines’ practical resources, but let’s suppose not—clearly it’s in principle possible for them to have done things this way. However, if Christians are correct, and our wills are in fact undetermined, then our desires cannot be fully anticipated. There is bound to be a gap between the evolution of our desires, and the Matrix’s capacity to satisfy them; hence some suffering is inevitable. This would partly explain Agent Smith’s remark, but once again would not explain why "No one would accept the programming." We are left with two possible explanations of the remark: either humans by their nature could not be successfully altered through programming; or else unaltered humans were psychologically incapable of accepting the relevant virtual environment. The latter seems to be Agent Smith’s thesis: the "perfect world" was just too good to be true, and literally incredible.11 Are we human beings simply incapable of having a happy existence, with no suffering? Not on the standard Christian view, according to which just such an existence awaits us in Heaven.
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II. What is Heaven?

The Christian notion of Heaven is far from a settled body of doctrine. (For instance, are there literally streets paved with gold, or is this just a metaphor for some barely imaginable, wonderful state of affairs?) Nevertheless, it has been asserted with some authority that the human condition in Heaven will be very different from that here and now. It is agreed that there is no suffering (see the epigraph), not to mention "exceeding joy," (an expression which occurs four times in the King James Bible), but what exactly will we do there? Some of the common claims about this can seem puzzling. In Letters from the Earth, Mark Twain has the banished Satan report to his fellow angels on the beliefs of mortal Man:

For instance, take this sample: he has imagined a heaven, and has left entirely out of it the supremest of all his delights, the one ecstasy that stands first and foremost in the heart of every individual of his race — and of ours —sexual intercourse! … His heaven is like himself: strange, interesting, astonishing, grotesque. I give you my word, it has not a single feature in it that he actually values. It consists — utterly and entirely — of diversions which he cares next to nothing about, here in the earth, yet is quite sure he will like them in heaven. Isn't it curious? Isn't it interesting? You must not think I am exaggerating, for it is not so. I will give you details. Most men do not sing, most men cannot sing, most men will not stay when others are singing if it be continued more than two hours… In man’s heaven, everybody sings! The man who did not sing on earth sings there; the man who could not sing on earth is able to do it there. The universal singing is not casual, not occasional, not relieved by intervals of quiet; it goes on, all day long, and every day, during a stretch of twelve hours. And everybody stays; whereas in the earth the place would be empty in two hours…

Satan’s list is long, and frequently amusing:

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then Man’s will does not change if he merely changes his beliefs about what it is that will bring him pleasure and avoid pain. Twain’s Puzzle. From youth to middle age all men and all women prize copulation above all other pleasures combined.html (10 of 20) [4/8/2003 16:57:32] . like the immortals. it seems that we think we will be happiest denying our own impulses. To wit. opportunity sets him wild. then a case can be made that (according to Satan. Satan somewhat overstates the puzzle when he writes that Heaven "has not a single feature in it that [Man] actually values. (iii) the activities that Man thinks he will pursue in Heaven are ones he avoids whenever possible. Satan’s point is that Man appears to think that his desires will be radically different in Heaven: he will desperately want the things that he does not want at all now. Call this appearance of inconsistent values. everything – even his queer heaven itself — to make good that opportunity and ride it to the overwhelming climax. Psychological hedonism is the view that there are really only two non-derived human desires: to obtain pleasure and avoid suffering. reputation.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_hanley." Man thinks that in Heaven he will still value joy and disvalue suffering. His main observations we can summarize as: (i) Man thinks he will be blissfully happy in Heaven. anyway) Man expects his will to be altered in Heaven. in this state he will risk life. In Mouse’s terms. naturally places sexual intercourse far and away above all other joys — yet he has left it out of his heaven! The very thought of it excites him. (ii) no activity that Man finds blissful on Earth will he pursue in Heaven. If psychological hedonism isn’t true (and Christians seem—wisely—to think it isn’t true).warnerbros.Never The Twain Shall Meet I recall to your attention the extraordinary fact with which I began. prayer takes its place. yet it is actually as I have said: it is not in their heaven. here on Earth. Does Man think his will is going to be different in Heaven? That depends. for instance. that the human being. http://whatisthematrix. If this were true. and not want at all the things that he desperately wants now.

Suppose that in Heaven.html (11 of 20) [4/8/2003 16:57:32] . This makes some sense in the case of. that this is all premised on the belief that sex outside marriage is something bad in and of itself. say. Then the elimination of suffering requires the elimination of sex. there is really no one psychologically "safe" to have sexual intercourse with. More precisely. But the question is what the typical Christian believes.Never The Twain Shall Meet Contrary to Satan. whose guilt may prevent him from full enjoyment. with some justification.warnerbros. and the relentless pursuit of gratification is. It might be further claimed that giving in to such impulses actually causes you suffering. a matter of weakness of will. It’s worth expanding on (1). since there is no marriage (so says Jesus. the Christian view is that such impulses ought to be denied. see for instance Matthew 22:30). not in its constitution. but no unhappiness. it can be argued that at least where sex is concerned. Satan and Mouse would no doubt respond. (3) Human beings in Heaven possess free will. (Of course. in a Christian. a notion you happily will be disabused of in Heaven.) Leaving aside what you would do there.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_hanley. a married man tempted to adultery. whether it is true or not. and you would inevitably feel guilty about engaging in it. (2) Human beings in Heaven will experience happiness. Christians standardly expect to recognize their http://whatisthematrix. if all goes well it will be you that survives bodily death and goes to Heaven. believers in Christian Heaven commonly hold the following four theses about it: (1) It’s possible for a human being to be in Heaven. (4) Human beings in Heaven interact with other human beings in Heaven.

knowing that the unsaved are residing instead in "the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone. Christians no longer believe http://whatisthematrix. Moreover. upon entering Heaven. However. then I will be sadly disappointed if he isn’t there (and angry.Never The Twain Shall Meet loved ones in Heaven. First. and not in Heaven at all. that they are not around.warnerbros. It seems that. Suppose that Mother Theresa is your idol. and I really want to meet Twain.) Heaven is also widely supposed to provide an opportunity to meet human beings you never knew on Earth. suppose universalism—the doctrine that everyone gets into Heaven—is true. but for the sake of humanity (you may respond with a quite cynical attitude toward human nature). you find out she’s not really a saint—indeed—quite the opposite. Christians on Earth are typically saddened by the fact that unbelievers will not get into Heaven. There are three basic ways around this sort of problem. Even if you don’t miss sex with your Earthly spouse. (Another version of the problem arises with missing your loved ones—being sad. if anything. they would be sadder still.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_hanley. not for them. which presumably requires remembering them. This will solve the problem only if. Heaven seems on the face of it to provide many opportunities for suffering. But such psychological continuity sits uncomfortably with (2). it seems you would miss them. You may be upset not only for your own sake. and you can’t wait to tell her so. But if I’m in Heaven. but for yourself. if it’s all on account of those Letters). when confronted by the wonders of Heaven. certain truths will presumably be available to you in Heaven.12 So it seems that they expect considerable psychological continuity between their Earthly and Heavenly existences—perhaps this is even guaranteed by the requirement that God be no deceiver.html (12 of 20) [4/8/2003 16:57:32] ." And it would seem to be cause for special anguish if one of your loved ones is absent from Heaven.

yet not ignorant. perhaps what we care about—our desires—will change. we would not mind—be blissful. But this requires Matrix-like deception (either to provide the appropriate virtual interaction with non-avatars.warnerbros. And according to the Free Will Theodicy. Yet. All in all. Second. it may be better to revise (2) to: (2*) Human beings in Heaven will be as happy as they can possibly be. and are devastated at the thought of losing it. sin is to be explained by the presence of free will in the world. Yet Heaven is a place without sin. so that good Christians no longer will mind the fact that others—even loved ones—are suffering (they might even take pleasure in it).Never The Twain Shall Meet that there ought to be any qualification for it (else they likely will be annoyed that others got a "free pass.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_hanley. then if (3) is false. so on the face of it. We believe we now have libertarian free will. Part of the point of Heaven is to be reunited with (saved) loved ones. Third. we would in Heaven know that we have no free will.html (13 of 20) [4/8/2003 16:57:32] . To deny (3) also raises Twain’s puzzle. (4) is taken completely for granted." especially a holier-than-thou like Mother Theresa). Heaven must include free will. If God is no deceiver. as far as I can tell. We may thus grant that it’s not possible for all suffering to be absent in Heaven—though this requires taking Revelation less literally than many Christians do. God could suppress the knowledge that others are not in Heaven. and Heaven would not be the real deal. presumably. free will is a surpassing good. But what of (3)? According to the Free Will Theodicy. But to accept this raises an acute version of Twain’s Puzzle. or else to just delete all memory of the missing). http://whatisthematrix. and to engage in "fellowship" with the other inhabitants. strongly desire it now.

and not vice versa. contrary to (4). no sin. and nobody that they don’t want there.13 Can (3) and (4) both be maintained. One advantage for denying (4) is that (2) has the best chance of being true. this lack is not experienced. God knows what you do because you do it. and tailors each virtual environment to provide exactly that.html (14 of 20) [4/8/2003 16:57:32] . (If it’s not possible. omnipresent God knows the (causally undetermined) future by. God knows what they freely want. The same resolution can be applied here. Those in such a solitary Matrix will think they are in the real deal. Some medieval Christians resolved the problem of the compatibility of free will with God’s foreknowledge by supposing that changeless. They’ll think they are in Heaven. libertarianism raises a difficulty. contrary to (3). when this is undetermined. and so on. as long as the solitary Matrix provides plenty of (virtual) interaction with virtual humans. by having been in the future and (so to speak) looking into your mind then.warnerbros. God has two main choices in creating a Heaven for human beings: either substantially alter the nature of human beings in Heaven (say by arranging a concordance of wills. or else put each human in a solitary Matrix. along with everyone that they want to be there. since you might think that God could not know what you want. given (1) and (2*)? There is logical space http://whatisthematrix. because they freely want to be in the real deal. so to speak. as long as time exists in Heaven: God knows what you will want before you want it. and having seen what happens. and so is not a source of suffering. already having been present then. hence you may do it freely. and perhaps even contrary to (1)).Never The Twain Shall Meet Like the builders of the First Matrix.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_hanley. if possible. that there’s no sadness.) Just as it did with the First Matrix. They will think they get along with along with everyone else just fine.

will we still be human http://whatisthematrix. But what ensures this? If it is inevitable that they change in this way. but none do. no one can sin when they are at last with God. that unblemished individuals won’t sin ever in the eternity they spend in Heaven. In addition to the problem of sin. (3) can be true. and only admits the deserving—those who actually don’t sin while on Earth. a creation with all of the benefits and none of the disadvantages. If our desires change too radically. God could have just created Heaven and be done with it. then libertarian freedom is again threatened. But this would get hardly anyone into Heaven. Perhaps we can appeal to a difference between this situation and that of creation: God has a chance to observe the behavior of free individuals. then the Free Will Theodicy seems to collapse. And if we are somehow free anyway. Worse. As Satan observed.html (15 of 20) [4/8/2003 16:57:32] . it seems to give inductive support. if Heaven is like the lucky roll of the creation die: the world where free beings always choose rightly. all interacting with each other.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_hanley. have no desires in conflict. and spare all the lost souls? Perhaps we should also consider Mouse’s point. The second is that. The immediate problem with this suggestion is that it seems incredible that such a coincidence will actually obtain. but just doesn’t. we might wonder how it can be managed that free human beings. In Heaven. if there is no incompatibility between human beings having libertarian free will and being incapable of sin.warnerbros.Never The Twain Shall Meet for this possibility. then why didn’t God just turn this trick to begin with. because they are in some sense incapable of doing so. The first is that any such incapability seems incompatible with libertarian freedom. rendering (3) false after all. This raises two distinct problems. and yet there be no sin in Heaven. everyone will be free to sin. it must be that our desires change radically. when our desires are radically altered. but no guarantee at all. It is standardly claimed that all are free to sin in Heaven.

which can be enjoyed behind bars.html (16 of 20) [4/8/2003 16:57:32] . Recall the suggestion that machines could not program our "perfect world. will be after all undetermined. Conclusion Perhaps both explanations of the failure of the First Matrix are correct. with the overwhelming likelihood (inevitability. though often enough unsatisfied. If the real deal includes libertarian free will.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_hanley. contrary to libertarian free will." Mouse might say it was an attempt to deny the very nature of human beings. it can be said more or less truly that we "define [even the best] reality through misery and suffering. If this is an incoherent notion. human interaction and libertarian free will rank above the absence of suffering. but this program required a radical revision in their wills.Never The Twain Shall Meet beings.warnerbros. and so "no one would accept the program. not even God can actualize it. (The sense in which humans are liberated from the Matrix has nothing to do with libertarian free will. the machines went for interaction combined with free will (which we are assuming is libertarian). We can now explain Agent Smith’s remarks: if we rank the elements of our incoherent notion of the best existence. as (1) would have it? III. And since they jointly require (almost by definition) the presence of suffering. In creating the Second Matrix. in practice) of suffering." The First Matrix was an attempt to give interacting humans an existence free of suffering. then so does the Second Matrix—our desires." Perhaps our thinking is incoherent: we think that the best existence is one where human beings interact with each other and everyone has libertarian free will and nobody suffers and that someone knowingly arranges this.) The Second Matrix also features substantial variation in wills amongst its human http://whatisthematrix.

each virtual human is an avatar.Never The Twain Shall Meet inhabitants. not being God. for God’s Holy City in Heaven—the place in the bowels of the Earth where human beings not in the Matrix dwell. In Heaven.) A relative of Twain’s puzzle emerges. given the nature of the Matrix. All in all. I suppose. http://whatisthematrix. did not know that Heaven is no other people. and the interesting ethical choices that arise when this is so. But given that Heaven is supposed to involve no suffering at all. and the "good guys" in the movie end up killing a lot of human beings in their fight against the Agents. For example. there is a heavier weighting given to the absence of suffering. and on the other is Zion—named ironically. God can knowingly minimize suffering in a real deal. God’s choice is clear: Heaven is a solitary Matrix. We when consider a pre-Heaven existence. apart from the Agents. This schism in our thinking is represented by the two competing visions in The Matrix: on the one hand is the Matrix. and given the surpassing value of libertarian free will in the Christian view of things.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_hanley. we seem to prefer the best Matrix to the best real deal. Never the twain—Twain and I—shall meet (in Heaven. if I am right. inevitable given the difference in desired outcome. we seem to prefer the best real deal to the best Matrix. the Second Matrix is the machines’ best attempt at matching what Christians believe God did for us through creation. but at the cost of libertarian free will. so their deaths presumably are to be regarded as acceptable collateral damage. our ranking of values seems to change. and Twain’s Puzzle arises anew. 14 When we humans turn our eyes toward Heaven. When thinking about Heaven.15 The machines. It’s hard to view these human beings as collaborators. while retaining human interaction.warnerbros.html (17 of 20) [4/8/2003 16:57:32] . anyway—there’s always the lake.

" 4. Its concrete-worldlike appearance seems an inferior perception. Perhaps "the Matrix" (an expression surely borrowed from William Gibson’s earlier use in Neuromancer) denotes the array of symbols encoding the virtual environment. See Christopher Grau’s essay. But The Matrix gives the impression that the environment just is the array of symbols that Neo sees when he finally sees in—so to speak—Matrixvision. The Second Matrix may connect with the truth in some unnecessary ways.warnerbros.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_hanley. I don't know about you." (OED) It is also a nod towards Baudrillard. If Cypher were put back into the Matrix as Ronald Reagan. Is Agent Smith telling the truth? I have no idea. but I prefer Sartre's vision of Hell to a lonely Matrix. Neo is enlightened about his own nature by liberation from the Matrix. and by the end he sees the true nature of the Matrix. See my essay. "Baudrillard and The Matrix. Metaphysicians will not yet be satisfied. perhaps). "Matrix." In several contexts it means a sort of substrate in which things are grown and developed." and originally meant "womb" (it is used in the Old Testament five times with this meaning). I recommend you read Grau’s essay in its entirety before proceeding. If Christian belief is easier to maintain inside the Second Matrix than outside it. "The Experience Machine." Indeed. you could unknowingly have an experience of heterosexual intercourse with another (unknowing) human who is in fact of the same sex. the Second Matrix. or "pregnant female. that would be clinching evidence that one’s avatar can be strikingly different. He is attempting to "hack into" Morpheus’s mind to gain the access codes to the Zion mainframe computer. Another still is a solitary Matrix without even the appearance of real interaction — call this a lonely Matrix. 6.Never The Twain Shall Meet Richard Hanley Endnotes 1. for instance. Another case to think about is a solitary Matrix allowing interaction with non-human participants (dogs. 3. Given this etymology. because you really physically interact. which we might distinguish from the environment itself. it is the concreteworld-like appearance of things that I’m concerned with here. so let’s ignore the possibility of a Neo. Sometimes it is argued that you are better off—happier—being a Christian.html (18 of 20) [4/8/2003 16:57:32] . in that other human beings are willing participants in the deception. A more modern meaning of "matrix" is based in mathematics: a rectangular arrangement of symbols. (The Matrix thus seems allegorical in turn of Plato’s well-known allegory of the Cave.) Still. Here’s an interesting question: which is better. or a systematically deceptive personalized non-virtual environment—a Truman show—that you never discover the true nature of? The latter has more veridical human interaction in one sense. the Matrix might have been the concrete thing that includes the collection of deceived humans in their vats." is from the Latin for "mother. whose work Simulacra and Simulation both influences and appears in The Matrix. even if God does not exist. but the interaction is less veridical in another sense. 2. of something. 7." as Morpheus tells Neo. One’s virtual body is depicted as more or less veridical.) Breaking this connection would permit interestingly different human interaction: for instance. 5. without possessing its substance or proper qualities. I use simulacrum in the following sense: "something having merely the form or appearance of a certain thing. so in interpreting the story we http://whatisthematrix. a mere image. (But this may be only "residual self image. a specious imitation or likeness. then Cypher could have an extra pragmatic reason for going back in.

but the sort of dream. People seem to expect that their body in Heaven will resemble their Earthly one (just as their Matrix "body" seems to resemble their real one). even the very existence of the First Matrix—with a grain of salt. terrible shapes. and not so if indeterminism is true. believing they are a spirit or soul distinct from their physical body. our physical bodies are the "avatars" of the real us. Many of our desires are derived from other desires plus belief. maybe Jesus’s message. Luke 10:20 has Jesus telling his disciples. so to speak. Causal indeterminism is the denial of causal determinism: the thesis that every event is completely determined by causally prior events. "… rejoice. (Whether the future can be known by means other than prediction is a different question — see note 11. It would be intriguing if God could "cheat" by doing what he does because He sees." 14. we can pretend that he’s telling the truth. because your names are written in heaven. where everything is perfectly and horribly normal. though. where impacted fears took on simple. he pulled the thing from his socket and held it.) The thesis that we have libertarian free will is called libertarianism. then. "matrix" also meant a list or register of names (also." In like manner. 13. The Second Matrix is in this respect almost the converse of Christian creation.html (19 of 20) [4/8/2003 16:57:32] . for their own sake—and seem to constitute what we refer to by "the will. rests on a confusion over the Latin malum. or will happen. and that embodiment provides the means for human interaction. The typical Christian is a Cartesian dualist." 10. infinitely more disturbing. Not a screamer. Perhaps this is for purposes of recognition." 12. 9. bake-your-noodle puzzle like the one the Oracle raises for Neo’s smashing of the vase. but it seems unnecessary—common memory can do the job. We need not fully characterize libertarian free will for present purposes. and where everything is utterly wrong. I am reminded of a passage in William Gibson’s Count Zero: "Eyes open. "People" in the sense of human beings.Never The Twain Shall Meet should take everything he says—and so. Loosely speaking. from the way the future is. It might be objected that there has to be at least http://whatisthematrix. 11. Non-derived desires. the notion that the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was an apple. This would raise a fatalist. For my purposes.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_hanley. matricula. they are not part of the environment God knowingly created. and there is little metaphysical sense to be made of "He did it because He did it. hence our English verb matriculate). It was like waking from a nightmare. what He will do. A useful and common illustration is to ask whether or not everything that happens. are importantly independent of belief—they are had. such as Ralph’s desire to kiss the girl next door. meaning both "evil" and "apple tree. is in principle predictable — this will be so if determinism is true. as long as they are the product of human free will. given the Free Will Theodicy. in a more or less "teeming" physical environment. for instance if Ralph desires to kiss Grandma only because he desires an inheritance and he believes kissing Grandma is necessary to achieve this. He cannot be caused to act on the basis of future knowledge. Perhaps Christians have had this revelation available to them all along. his palm slick with sweat. The main point is that causal indeterminism is a necessary condition of it. Is this a theological guarantee of the real deal? The Christian can surely deny this. Intended meaning can go astray: according to some. 15.warnerbros." In Latin. 8. And if they do not have libertarian free will. The existence of the Matrix seems compatible with God’s being no deceiver. Being unchanging. if the machines have libertarian free will. But God is a special case. was that Heaven is a Matrix! 16. lost in translation.

and then it might be objected that we should regard the solitary Matrix as containing virtual individuals—such as your imaginative sexual partner(s). if there is sex in Heaven—which are arguably persons you really interact with. (Real interaction with angels likewise presents no problems. So we might have another argument that the Christian Heaven is an incoherent notion.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_hanley.) A fascinating further suggestion is that you couldn’t be maximally happy unless the "program" was extremely sophisticated.warnerbros. God’s desires presumably being compatible with yours. since it doesn’t affect the argument. then you can’t interact with them either. without someone eventually suffering. for instance.html (20 of 20) [4/8/2003 16:57:32] .Never The Twain Shall Meet one person you are in contact with: God.) If these virtual individuals are persons with libertarian free will. (Agent Smith’s impassioned outburst that he hates the Second Matrix might be evidence of personhood. I’ll just concede this. http://whatisthematrix.

1 I have so far drawn out two aspects of the "moral background" of the film: enslavement and deception. at its core. We. The heroes are thus depicted as fighting a noble battle for the liberation of the human species.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_iakovos. The machines induce the appearance of ordinary 1999 life in the human beings with a computer generated "virtual community" for the purpose of keeping them docile and asleep so that they and their offspring can be used like living batteries. it seems to be the ordinary world of 1999. are in on a secret: The reality that forms the lives of millions of human beings is not real. it is an essential part of The Matrix that we are provided with a specific account of how all of this happened. the viewers.warnerbros. the humans lost. their minds are radically deceived and their bodies are exploited. Although some details of the history remain untold. but almost no one knows it. and are now farmed to supply energy sources for the machines.Reality and What Matters in The Matrix The Matrix is.html (1 of 19) [4/8/2003 16:57:52] . There was a battle between human beings and machines whose cognitive capacity had surpassed their own. In reality human beings are floating in liquid in machine pods. In a desperate attempt to win. Despite this extreme tactic. We should also note the perspective we have on http://whatisthematrix. with tubes connected to them in a grotesque post-apocalyptic world where the sun is blotted out. of course. To the average person. The world that seems real to most people is in fact a computer-generated simulation. While humans seem to walk around in an ordinary life. were enslaved. like the heroes. human beings blocked out the sun's light in order to deprive the machines of their power source. a film with a moral plot.

1. and the situation of the ordinary people within it differ from reality and the people within it (i.. Given the outlined history. for example. the heroes – Morpheus. one group of people enslaves another. When we watch the film. But how does the Matrix. As viewers of the Matrix.e. no one in the Matrix shares our God's eye perspective. reality is simply there.warnerbros. How Does the Matrix Differ from Reality? Excluding. or whether the view of the human pods we see might only be some sort of dream image or illusion. sleep. we identify with the heroes in part because we are repulsed by the idea that human beings are enslaved and deceived. In everyday life as well. We have what is sometimes called a "God's eye" perspective: we can see both the Matrix reality and "real" reality. We are let in on the truth about the situation. drink. and we are not supposed to question. no matter what http://whatisthematrix. on penalty of death. and the rest of their crew – and the machines. we are meant to understand the situation of the humans as a terrible and unfair one.Reality and What Matters in The Matrix the Matrix as viewers of The Matrix. we are in on the truth and we can see for ourselves that human beings are both enslaved and deceived.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_iakovos. Trinity. or one person or group deceives others. We are forced to do many things in ordinary reality: we must eat. whether the battle between Morpheus and his friends and the Agents is itself being conducted in another "meta-matrix".2 It is easy to find these two elements at work in The Matrix in part because we think of enslavement and deception as things that are done to some people by others. us)? Let's begin with enslavement. Also. as far as we know. In the film it is the machines who are the agents of slavery and deception and almost all of the humans are victims.html (2 of 19) [4/8/2003 16:57:52] . eventually Neo. for the moment.

examined many forms of human bondage. philosophers. in a type of bondage.? Others conclude that God is not constraining us. or even for a couple of hundred years. Who has done this to us? Answering this question is important to some degree because we typically use the term "enslavement" to refer to something done by one agent to some others. travel to other planets. within a fairly predictable time frame. and I have simply offered limits we are subject to in virtue of the laws of nature. But of course human beings have offered answers to this question: one is God. to transcend the imposed limitations on their physical being. In other words. and offered various types of suggestions as to how to free ourselves. It has nothing to do with our voluntary choice.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_iakovos. initially. why can't we go back in time. etc. the laws of nature. we shall eventually. die. artists. The list could go on and on. We simply find ourselves in this condition.Reality and What Matters in The Matrix we do. we should be clear that these limitations are imposed on us. or our judgements about what ought to be the case. with these rules: we all die within approximately 100 years. though ordinarily most of us don't think of it as such. to find anyone on whom to pin the blame. we cannot stay alive forever. but simply the laws of nature. compared with some easily imaginable possibilities. They do not mean http://whatisthematrix. then we get angry at him again). Human beings have longed to "break out" of this reality. We can't travel back and forth in time. we are severely constrained. In the case of the constraints I outlined above it may be harder. no one made them that way (if God did. Religious thinkers have struggled with questions about why we should not be angry at God for constraining us in the ways he does: why do people die. another. Writers. can't fly to other planets by flapping our arms.html (3 of 19) [4/8/2003 16:57:52] . and theologians over the centuries have of course been keenly aware of these limitations. At least at first this thought might be a bit more palatable insofar as we think of the laws of nature as impersonal features of reality. our wishes. Moreover.warnerbros.

except perhaps for committed subjectivists. even if it is terrible. The humans in Homer certainly seem to be caught in a matrix of sorts. however. but at the hands of God or "nature". not about the deception of some people by others (just as we did not look at the enslavement of some people by others). For one person. our actual situation is one of involuntary constraint. however. purposefully to keep others in the dark about some truth is to diminish the respect and authority of those people.html (4 of 19) [4/8/2003 16:57:52] . Deception offends many people.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_iakovos. the truth. In Homer's Iliad and Odyssey the gods are depicted throughout as capriciously deceiving human beings. As human http://whatisthematrix. since many people believe that they want to know. and generally interfering quite frequently in human affairs. In such situations. a few people decide which truths others can handle. much akin to the humans' situation in the Matrix. and which they can't. compelling them knowingly and unknowingly to do specific things. with gods and goddesses operating on a plane of reality that is not accessible to them (unless the gods want it to be) but that nevertheless often affects matters in the humans' ordinary reality. except that it is not at the hands of machines against whom we lost a war. Human beings are being actively deceived by the Matrix into believing things about reality that are not true. but the deception of humanity in general. We might think.warnerbros. Although this happens routinely – consider the relationship between those who govern and those who are governed – many people bristle at this idea and want the scope of such filtering of the truth to be severely limited. it is to act patronizingly and paternalistically.Reality and What Matters in The Matrix to constrain us and there is no mind or intelligent force actively doing anything to us. or a group of people.3 Either way. or at least have the right to know. The second aspect of the moral background of The Matrix is deception.

science.5 We can see the very development of philosophy.html (5 of 19) [4/8/2003 16:57:52] . and not the other way round. despite the fact that. without any cruel machines doing anything to us. as though humanity forgot to carry the two in some addition calculation. Descartes certainly worried about the extent to which God had had a hand in deceiving all of humanity for tens of thousands of years up to that point. Even though human beings were mistaken for millennia about the fact that the Earth moves relative to the Sun. or by God) about things in the past.Reality and What Matters in The Matrix beings began to understand that the Earth rotated around the Sun. or by the light. Natural phenomena are often described as contributing to our misunderstanding of them for a reason. I say people's "radical deception". and other truths that turn out to be radically different from how things seem to be.warnerbros. art. being deceived also seems to require an agent – someone to do the deceiving. or by angles. all-knowing. it is hard to describe our error as simply having "made a mistake". we realize that there are nevertheless many things we cannot do. and that it only stands to reason that we may be radically mistaken about our explanations of things now.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_iakovos. and not vice versa. and we know that we humans have been radically deceived by natural phenomena (or by the gods. and all-powerful God could have allowed (and whether indeed he was complicit in) people's radical deception about the relative motions of the planet they live on. He devotes a significant portion of the Meditations4 to worrying about how an all-good. however. as with being enslaved. We should note. Surely part of the reason that it took humans so long to understand the motions of the Earth is that the appearances themselves are deceptive: it certainly looks as though the Sun is moving across the sky. and technology as all stemming from a drive to "free humanity" from http://whatisthematrix. that we talk of being deceived or fooled by mirrors. So in our ordinary situation. religion.

If God is responsible.warnerbros. From this perspective.6 We develop planes to break the bonds of gravity that keep us physically on the surface of the Earth. I hope this necessarily brief discussion enables us to see the importance of both the God's eye perspective and the moral background of the film for effecting a difference between the situation depicted in The Matrix and our http://whatisthematrix. and being able to manipulate reality. for he set things up the way he did for a wise and benevolent reason. or to fight him and win. We would then all be Neos.7 We might note too. In Homer's world the gods were frequently literally in battle with humans who were greatly outmatched. My first point. fought with the "Agents". a difference between the Homeric gods and the Judaeo-ChristianIslamic God. our reality. but end our stay in this reality) and show us the truth in heaven. before Neo. if we act certain ways. although not entirely impotent – much like the humans that. finally knowing the full truth about things. he is. rather. With the God of the major contemporary religions. is that if we could get hold of the being responsible for setting up the reality we're actually in. not go out of existence.html (6 of 19) [4/8/2003 16:57:52] . we develop complex experiments and gadgets designed to discover the truth about things independently of how they may appear. at this bigpicture level. then. then.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_iakovos. all-good. we would need to plead with him successfully. then we could perhaps "free" ourselves. as part of a struggle to achieve the position of a Morpheus or a Neo.e." we would need to learn how to write and rewrite them. he will free us from this reality after we "die" (i. we need to learn to accept the position he has put us in (this "mortal coil". if it's the mathematical formulae (computer programs?) underlying "the laws of nature. our matrix) and. we should not fight God. by definition. or do certain things.Reality and What Matters in The Matrix such deception and enslavement.

Nor is the reality of most people in the Matrix the result of impersonal laws of nature.9 While humans are stuck in this state. just as in the film (minus the scary "Sentinels"). without changing anything in the Matrix.html (7 of 19) [4/8/2003 16:57:52] . on this scenario. but the emission of so many greenhouse gases with our three-lane-wide SUVs that we completely obliterated the ozone layer and thereby rendered the planet uninhabitable by us or by the plants and animals that we rely on for our survival. scientists set up an enormous self-sustaining machine. for some wonderful. A Benevolently Generated Matrix Now The Matrix could be significantly altered. Instead. so that human beings are not needed as "batteries". Imagine that the real world is a post-apocalyptic hell. pain and toil. As viewers of the film we are in a special position: we can see both inside and outside of the Matrix.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_iakovos.000 years it will take for whatever weeds are left on the planet to fix our atmosphere and make the planet once again habitable in a normal way. frying almost everything else on the planet). just as in the film. The Matrix then supplies us the viewers with a definitive answer about who is responsible for what most human beings take to be reality. designed to keep the human species alive and reproducing for the 100. suppose that the cause of the world's being in such a state is not some battle with machines that wanted to enslave us. the scientists create the Matrix for them http://whatisthematrix.8 2. but. Suppose further that sometime in the future.Reality and What Matters in The Matrix ordinary condition.warnerbros. replete with constraints and deceptive appearances. machines who use human beings as batteries are responsible for what counts as reality for most people. the sun is now stronger than ever. unlike in the film. The machine operates simply on solar power (since. We can see that it is not a benevolent God who has set up this 1999 reality. miraculous purpose. in order to save the human race.

Another difference that I think is quite significant is that in the Matrix.000 years for the Earth to return to its present state of habitability? As Chris Grau discusses in his introductory essay (section "C"). and figured out that they could. which would clearly be a most horrific torture. would have quite a different response to The Matrix. the Matrix is importantly different from Robert Nozick's "experience machine". The ordinary person in this scenario is in the same condition as an ordinary person in the film. survive in the devastated world (eating disgusting porridge. just as the ordinary world does now. even if it would take another 10. With the experience machine.Reality and What Matters in The Matrix to "live" their lives in instead of being conscious of floating in a vat for the length of their life. It is http://whatisthematrix. which is the private content of my own consciousness. how would we think of him? If Morpheus and his friends had left the Matrix.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_iakovos. however. with extreme difficulty. etc. Of course it would seem no different to the person in the Matrix. should they go about "freeing" everyone. and we could go back to living on the planet. it is the result of benevolent human beings trying to keep the human race alive in as good condition as possible under the terrible circumstances.10 Grau points out that we retain free will in the Matrix. If there were a Morpheus in this situation. it is all about my experience. I am really interacting with other human minds.). no injustice to rectify (the pushers of SUVs being long dead). unlike in the experience machine.html (8 of 19) [4/8/2003 16:57:52] . We. Once the power of the sun is diminished to a habitable degree (because of the repaired atmosphere) the machine would "wake" us humans. except that instead of the Matrix being the diabolical result of evil machines who exploit the human race. the viewers. There would be no enemy to fight. There is a community of human beings.warnerbros. The "world" in the Matrix will respond to our free choices.

floating in a vat set up by a god who has since committed suicide. however. for in a dream that person is not really there at all. It is true that in the Matrix they would not really be giving each other flowers. people in the Matrix really suffer and experience pain. or really holding hands. This feature of the Matrix is also a respect in which life in the Matrix is critically unlike a dream. and when they die in the Matrix. a dream is private to one's own consciousness. who display their characters in how they react to all of the – in one sense – "unreal" situations of the Matrix. however. Everyone is hooked up to one and the same Matrix. not just to one consciousness. They would. Of course people aren't really shaking hands – their hands are in vats – but it seems to each of their consciousnesses. If two people fall in love in the Matrix.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_iakovos. that they are shaking hands. Moreover. just like in Nozick's experience machine. there are not unique matrices generated for each individual.13 Now this seems to me to be of enormous significance in thinking about the Matrix. both be experiencing the same things together. when two people meet there are really two consciousnesses there that are each experiencing "the same things" from their respective positions. In sceptical problems that stem from the Evil Genius hypothesis in Descartes' first Meditation.11 In the Matrix. they http://whatisthematrix. in what sense would their love not be real? It would not be as if a person merely dreamt that he had fallen in love with someone. that only I can have my dream.12 Regardless of the amount of conscious control one has or lacks in a dream.Reality and What Matters in The Matrix imaginable that I am alone in the universe. there is a threat of solipsism and the dread of feeling that one might be alone in the universe. They would know each other as persons. as Wittgenstein might say.html (9 of 19) [4/8/2003 16:57:52] . despite the fact that the humans are described as "dreaming". It is part of the grammar of "dream".warnerbros.

surely I could do that far better within the Matrix than outside of it where a person must battle simply for his or her survival. If my aim in life was to write some extraordinary philosophy or a ground-breaking novel. Or consider painting or dancing. which scientists would study and which would progress as does ordinary science. in what sense would it be unreal or even diminished in value? This differs again from the experience machine. loving each other within the Matrix rather than fighting for survival and barely succeeding outside of it. making music or a movie.000 other minds. I might have programmed it so that it would seem to me that I had written a brilliant novel and that people had appreciated it.Reality and What Matters in The Matrix die in the "real world" too. In fact. and so did 10. The fact that one and the same Matrix is inhabited by millions of minds means that millions of people are really interacting. in the benevolently generated Matrix I hypothesized we would seem clearly better off as a species. however. I am trying to show that while we are http://whatisthematrix. Physics as we know it would be false (not of course the physics of the Matrix. After all. I am not given false memories. intellectually.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_iakovos. In the experience machine. however. Would any of these activities be affected by the fact that what I took to be material objects were objects that were computer generated? And if not. and I do really interact with other minds. In the Matrix. or a philosophy paper. a poem. see below). where does my novel or my philosophy paper exist for much of its genesis and storage? In a computer of course. developing artistically. But art and human relationships would not be affected. and you read it.html (10 of 19) [4/8/2003 16:57:52] . even if the physical universe in which they are interacting is radically different from how it appears. no one would have read my novel and I would have simply programmed myself with memories of having written it. although I never really did. Consider as well writing a novel. and I then win the Pulitzer Prize for it.warnerbros. If I wrote a novel in the Matrix.

Reality and What Matters in The Matrix

attached to reality, we are not attached to the physical per se, where that refers to what we think of as the underlying causes of the smells, tastes, feels, sights, and sounds around us: they could be molecules, they could be computer chips, they could be the whims of Homeric gods. Indeed, very few human beings have much understanding of contemporary physics and what it maintains things "really" are.14 Nozick's experience machine may have shown us that we have an attachment to the real, an attachment to the truth that we are really doing things, really accomplishing things, and not just seeming to, but we should not for that reason think we are necessarily attached to a certain picture of the physical or metaphysical constitution of things. I would like return to the question of the sense in which the reality of the Matrix is different from the real world. I think that there is an important difference between being deceived about the reality of an object and being deceived about the real underlying physical or metaphysical cause of something. Avoiding deception and error about the latter is the concern of physics (and metaphysics). That we might be wrong, indeed radically wrong, about the physics/biology of an elephant is quite different from hallucinating that there is an elephant in front of you, or dreaming of an elephant, or experiencing an elephant in Nozick's machine. In the latter three cases, one is deceived about the reality of an object, about whether there is an elephant there at all. I am not saying that the actual physics or metaphysics of a thing will not determine whether it is there; if something is really the underlying cause of something else, of course it must determine its existence. I do claim, however, that given the reality of a thing, knowing its true physical/metaphysical explanation neither augments nor diminishes its value or its reality.15 To discover that, contrary to what you had believed, elephants

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evolved from single-celled sea creatures and are mostly water, and that water consists of molecules, and that molecules consist of atoms, and that there is a certain interrelationship between matter and energy – that is all part of science's attempt to understand the truth about physical reality. None of these conclusions impugns the elephant's reality or the value it has in the world. What substances at bottom are is a question for science or, perhaps, metaphysics. The moral background of the film is quite relevant here. If the fact that we are in the Matrix is simply a matter of our being incorrect about or ignorant of what the real physics of things is, then the Matrix is quite close to our ordinary situation, although our position as viewers of The Matrix is not like that at all. Since we have a "God's eye" perspective, we are able to know what is really the cause of things and what is not. In the benevolent Matrix that I envisaged, however, you could learn Matrixphysics and Matrix-history just as we now learn ordinary physics and ordinary history. At a certain age in school you might be taught that your body is really floating in a vat, and then perhaps you could put on goggles and see the world outside of the Matrix, like looking at an x-ray or at your blood under a microscope. Brought up with such a physics and biology, it would seem natural – about as exciting (and unexciting) as being told that your solid unmoving table is made of incredibly small incredibly fast moving parts, or that all of your physical characteristics are determined by a certain code in your DNA, or where babies come from – despite the fact that such truths are hardly obvious, and conflict radically with the way things appear. Just consider any of the conclusions of contemporary physics or quantum mechanics. History too might continue as normal, divided into BM (before Matrix) and AM (after Matrix) dates. After all in the "real" world, outside of the Matrix, nothing would be happening of interest except to scientists. It would be like the contemporary
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study of bottom of the ocean, or of the moon. Aside from its causal influence on the physical state of the planet, what goes on down there or up there has no part to play in human history. All of human history would occur within the Matrix. By hypothesizing a benevolent rather than a malevolent cause of the Matrix, we can see how much of what I am calling the "moral background" of The Matrix influences what we think of it. Deprived of that moral background, a benevolently generated Matrix can show us that our attachment is not to the physical constitution and cause of things, but also not simply to experience. Our attachment is to things that have value. Let me explain. Take the example, discussed in the film, of the pleasure of eating. Imagine that science develops a pill which supplies the perfect amount of nutrition for a human being each day. Humans no longer need to eat at all in the ordinary way. In fact they are, as far as their health is concerned, far worse off if they try to rely on their taste to supply them with the appropriate nutrition (see current statistics on fast food consumption and obesity). They can simply take the pill and get nutrition far superior to what they would if left to their own taste to determine what and how much to eat. Let's suppose too that science has found a way to simulate food with a computer, so that they have created a "food-matrix". My real nutrition would come from the pill, but I could still go out for a "simulated" steak and it would seem just as though I were really eating a steak, including the sensation of getting full, although in fact I would be eating nothing and getting no nutritional harm or benefit from the experience at all. It is hard to imagine such a perfect pill and such perfect computer-simulated food; such a pill is no simple vitamin, and a tofu-burger is no simulated steak. But if we suppose that there are such things, I think
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human beings would readily give up eating real steak. What those who value eating steak value is not the eating of real cow flesh (in fact, putting it that way inclines one to become a vegetarian), but the experience of eating. If eating the computer steak really were, as we are assuming, absolutely indistinguishable from eating a real steak, no one would care whether they were eating a "real" steak – that is, one that was obtained from a slaughtered cow. At this level the discussion is again about what the underlying causes of phenomenal qualities are: whether the causes of the taste, smell, etc. of the steak are cow molecules or computer chips or the hand of God. This is, as it were, a matter of science or metaphysics – not of concern to the consumer as a consumer. Now for all physical objects, I contend, it is of no value to us if their underlying constitution is ordinary atoms, or computer generated simulation. My favorite pen still writes the same way, my favorite shirt still feels the same way. If these things are not "real" in the sense that their underlying constitution is radically other than I had believed, that makes no difference to the value that these things have in our lives. It does, of course, make a difference to the truth of the physics or metaphysics I learn. But none of this implies that I was being deceived about the reality of the object – that the object I valued was or is not there in the sense that matters to the nonscientist.16 In a scene discussed by Grau, Cypher claims his knowledge that the steak is "unreal" – that is, computer generated – does not diminish his enjoyment. Cypher then looks forward to the point when he expects his memory to be wiped clean, and when he will no longer remember that the Matrix is the Matrix. But it seems to me to be unclear why Cypher needs to forget anything about his steak being unreal in order to fully enjoy it – as he

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himself seems to understand – nor does he need to forget that he is in the Matrix in order to make his life pleasant and satisfying within it. What he desperately needs to forget in order to have a comfortable and satisfying life is the memory of his immoral and cowardly betrayal of his friends and of the rest of those outside of the Matrix who are engaged in the fight for human liberation. But this is an issue, once again, not arising from the Matrix itself, but from the "moral background" of the film. Having a radically different underlying constitution is very different from saying that things are not real, in the sense of being a mere illusion, as in a dream or a hallucination. Consider again the case of our human interactions. If a person I am friends with is not, after all, a person, then I think there is a clear sense in which the friendship is not real, just as in Nozick's experience machine or in a dream that I was friends with Tom Waits. I would then seem to have a relationship to someone, but in reality not have one. What matters is whether I am really interacting with another free mind. I certainly won't try to say what it is to have a mind, or what it is for that mind to be "free", but whatever it is, I am claiming that its value is not importantly tied to any theory in physics or metaphysics. Whatever the cause and explanation is of the existence of a free mind, it is the having of one and the ability to interact with other ones that matters. If the underlying constitution of Tom Waits is computer chips, instead of blood and guts, what difference does that make? This is not a question about his reality – whether he is really there or not –, it is a question about his physical or metaphysical constitution. If he has a mind, whatever that is, and he has free will, whatever that is, what do I care what physical parts he is – or is not – made of?17 Indeed, I earnestly hope in the actual world never to see any of those parts or have direct contact with them at all.

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We. barring enslavement and deception. and that we feel watching him. though. The Matrix is a story about a few human beings fighting to save the rest of humanity. that Neo's greatness. can be manipulated by a human being. then one could manipulate the reality of the Matrix. Key to Neo's eventual success is his training.html (16 of 19) [4/8/2003 16:57:52] . as viewers. apparently. or really dodge bullets (nor. does he dress in full-length black leather coats. would not get any pleasure from The Matrix if it were not for the Matrix. the cause of the Matrix is explicitly not benevolent.warnerbros. we would prefer life within the Matrix. Neo is the savior of humanity. I have so far considered how we would feel about the reality of a benevolently generated Matrix. We ought to note here. things are not real. He can't really fly. the thrill for the viewer as he or she hopes that the heroes can defeat the enemy. But in The Matrix. Outside of the Matrix. If there were no Matrix. is only the case because the Matrix exists.Reality and What Matters in The Matrix 3. Neo is just a smart computer geek. In his training he learns that the Matrix. is that as he gains this control he is able to do things that are. apparently. I guess. fly. as a computer-generated group dream. etc. everyone would be eating terrible http://whatisthematrix. hang onto helicopters. The idea. and a large amount of the pleasure that the viewer gets from the film consists of watching Neo and his friends learn to manipulate the Matrix. despite appearances. But I think there is some duplicity at work in the way The Matrix exploits the Matrix. the film expects one to root for the humans. The thrill that Neo feels. Human beings are enslaved and exploited by scary-looking machines. is that if one could bring oneself to believe deeply enough that. though I guess he could). his being the One. Of course. superhuman – move faster than bullets.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_iakovos. The Matrix on the Matrix I shall conclude by claiming that The Matrix itself provides evidence that. That is how the movie generates excitement.

is derived from the Matrix. which. http://whatisthematrix. I at any rate hope we remain enslaved and deceived by something for a long time to come. now as always. see below. which would make for a bad world and a bad movie. then.Reality and What Matters in The Matrix porridge in a sunless world and simply fighting for survival. What we want. we ought to think about whether there is some objectionable "speciesism" at work in the humans' assessment of the situation.html (17 of 19) [4/8/2003 16:57:52] . For my purposes I'll assume the humans are morally justified in the fight for liberation. and some human beings are guilty of having acted wrongly towards them.warnerbros.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_iakovos. I might add. looking at what people have done so far. I've argued that our reality might just as well be the Matrix. is certainly a defensible position. This is because there's nothing wrong with the Matrix per se. the existence of a "more advanced" species than our own (however that is to be determined) surely should not deprive us of our human rights. but. it was they who blotted out the sun in an attempt to exterminate the machines. I suppose. it is Morpheus's breaking the handcuffs. But all of the satisfaction that the viewer gets. Moreover. What we would do with such power is a question. The premise of the movie is that there is a moral duty to destroy the Matrix. If my argument is right. indeed. 2. Particularly in light of the machines' claim that they are simply the next evolutionary step. And in part because we too would like to control reality. Another topic raised by the film. Are the humans clearly in the right? After all.18 Iakovos Vasiliou Footnotes 1. which I will not discuss beyond this note. Trinity's gravity-defying leaps. It's not just Cypher's steak that is owed to the Matrix. and Neo's bullet dodging. is to have control over it ourselves. and that the characters get in terms of their own sense of purpose and of being special. that would hardly justify the involuntary enslavement of the entire human race in perpetuity. assuming the conditions on Earth are still so terrible. For even if machines are the next evolutionary step. the irony of The Matrix is that the heroes spend all of their time liberating human beings from the Matrix although afterwards they would have good reason to go back in. for psychologists. and "free" the humans. would be to assess the moral background of the plot. one way or another.

53) "an unapparent connection is stronger than an apparent one" and (fr. or make you bleed. of the universe as a whole. kill their bodies outside of the Matrix. Morpheus and company are an interesting amalgam of technological sophistication and religious symbolism. there are important disanalogies between Matrix-experience and dream-experience." 6. Neo "sees" this. and be perceived by the other minds? The one with the stronger will? Second. voluntarily or not. Except in some bad horror movies. the Presocratic philosopher Heraclitus (c. since it is not simply one mind at work that can "alter" the images one is conscious of.Reality and What Matters in The Matrix 3. more precisely. I am simply taking the truth of the "God's eye" perspective offered the viewer of the film for granted. even without. 13. So the boy's control of his environment is perceivable both by the boy's mind and by Neo's. The Stoics thought of the natural world. 7.) 11. The Matrix must be. Or. "Dream Skepticism". any gods acting as agents of deception. (The essay can be found here. where Grau clearly explains Nozick's example. See also next note. there is only your own mind involved. First. dream images cannot really kill you. call the experience of the Matrix "a dream". The Matrix tells us and shows us that we are all hooked up to the same Matrix. and for the machines if they were sufficiently reflective. 4. But we should remember that Neo.warnerbros.480 BC) writes (fr. as the movie does. 12. while in the Matrix and before he has met Morpheus. as itself a rational creature with an overall goal or purpose. that is. and that is not my concern here. 8. The difficulty of understanding how something which is a mere "image" is supposed to have this sort of effect seems therefore to cause some problems for calling the state of ordinary people in the Matrix "dreaming". the same questions could be raised about what makes the reality outside of the Matrix the way it is – who is responsible for that? And then we can imagine them responding in the sorts of ways I have described. the "images" that are in your mind in the Matrix can. really kill people. The idea that reality is tricky and tries to hide its nature from us is very old. the laws of nature. So he must be changing something that is.540-c. I am arguing above that the fact that one mind is really interacting with other minds is critical to assessing the value of the Matrix reality. those of us who accomplished this. in a dream. if we wish. when the young boy bends the spoon. "in reality". see especially Meditations I and IV. 5. a group dream. pinning the blame on God. as in Homer's case. and regularly do. 9. For example. See Grau. 10. This complicates the apparently clear idea of controlling one's dream. has a dream while he is "asleep".html (18 of 19) [4/8/2003 16:57:52] . Of course for Morpheus and his crew. and Neo's control over it to "lucid" dreaming. Although this theme is present throughout. at a minimum. We could certainly. I think that perhaps Colin McGinn's essay too quickly assimilates the Matrix to dreaming. The threat of solipsism seems to me to be the same in the Matrix or in the ordinary world. etc. I am not sure of the coherence of the hypothesis here. Although McGinn may be right that the Matrix must be dealing with "images" rather than "percepts".com/rl_cmp/new_phil_iakovos. So we need some distinction between that sort of "dream" http://whatisthematrix. But what if Neo straightens the spoon at the same time the boy bends it? Whose lucid dream will win out. Neo's image of the spoon. For example. This detail is meant simply to avoid the possibility of unease over the issue of whether human beings are being used as batteries. I shall assume that my reader has read that essay. in Neo's mind – namely. 123) "nature/the real constitution [of things] (phusis) loves to hide itself.

warnerbros.Reality and What Matters in The Matrix and Neo's "waking" "group-dream" within the Matrix. then I would care whether my friend was a machine or not. 14. I am simply bypassing any sceptical questions.html (19 of 19) [4/8/2003 16:57:52] . 15. This sentence implies that contemporary physics represents humans' best understanding of the true nature of reality. The problem of other minds. Scepticism about other minds – the questions of whether there really are other minds and how we could tell whether there are – is not addressed at all by what I am saying. etc. if someone somehow showed that a machine could not have a "free mind". 18. is equally a problem in or out of the Matrix. I would surely care if what appeared to be a person did not fulfill those criteria. how they come into being. As throughout this essay. and activities because of their inherent value. All human being might be considered "scientists" insofar as we are curious about and have a conception of what the reality of things are: what causes them. how they are destroyed.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_iakovos. http://whatisthematrix. For example. given that ex hypothesi as a machine he would not have a free mind. not the correct theory about what makes someone a person. like solipsism mentioned above. 17. I am grateful to Chris Grau and Bill Vasiliou for comments on and discussion about an earlier version of this essay. objects. but only secondarily. Given a true account of what it is to have a mind. 16. for then he would not be a person after all. I am claiming that ignorance of or deception about the right physical or metaphysical account of mind does not thereby cast doubt on the value of having a mind. a value they retain regardless of the correct explanation of their reality. since it is part of my argument that being in the Matrix does not affect them. which is certainly a contentious claim. But we are also interested in other people. The question of whether I know something is in fact real or an illusion remains as legitimate or illegitimate as always. My point is only that it is "having a free mind" or "being a person" that is the source of value. I am taking for granted the truth of what the film tells us: there are other minds.

I. if things continue to progress as they are doing. The Facts But is it just a danger—a potential threat—or.html (1 of 12) [4/8/2003 16:58:01] .The Matrix -. computers double their performance every 18 months. "In contrast with our intellect. So the danger is real that they could develop intelligence and take over the world."1 The important message to take from this is that the danger—that we will see machines with an intellect that outperforms that of humans—is real. said recently. is it a realistic possible future world? The number of respected scientists predicting the advent of intelligent machines is growing exponentially. is it an inevitability? Is the Matrix going to happen whether we like it or not? One flaw in the present-day thinking of some philosophers lies in their assumption that the ultimate goal of research into Artificial Intelligence is to create a robot machine with intellectual capabilities approaching those of a human. so that artificial brains contribute to human intelligence rather than opposing it. This may be the aim in a limited number of cases.Our Future? Is The Matrix merely a science fiction scenario.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_warwick.warnerbros. perhaps the most highly regarded theoretical scientist in the world and the holder of the Cambridge University chair that once belonged to Isaac Newton. rather. or is it. a philosophical exercise? Alternatively. Steven Hawking." He added. but the goal for most AI developers is to make use of the ways in which robots can outperform humans—rather than those in which they can only potentally become our http://whatisthematrix. "We must develop as quickly as possible technologies that make possible a direct connection between brain and computer.

One thing overlooked by many is that humans do not reproduce. other than in cloning. ethics. major problems will appear for humans. in the form of a last gasp from http://whatisthematrix. X-ray. whereas human brains are still restricted to conceiving the same entity in an extremely limited three dimensional way.html (2 of 12) [4/8/2003 16:58:01] .Our Future? match. rather. as opposed to the human’s embarrassingly slow mechanical technique called speech. Robots can sense the world in ways that humans cannot—ultraviolet.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_warwick. its production having been initiated by humans. humans produce other humans. But perhaps the biggest advantage robots have over us is their means of communication—generally an electronic form. even more capable and powerful robots.warnerbros. and begin to produce other. Once a race of intellectually superior robots has been set into action. How would humans be able to reason or bargain with such robots? Why indeed should such robots want to take any notice at all of the silly little noises humans would be making? It would be rather like humans today obeying the instructions of cows. and values of these robots will almost surely be drastically different from those of humans. So a war of some kind would be inevitable. It appears to be inevitable that at some stage a sentient robot will appear. with its highly restricted coding schemes called languages. infrared. Robots are far superior at producing other robots and can spawn robots that are far more intelligent than themselves. and ultrasonic perception are some obvious examples—and they can intellectually outperform humans in many aspects of memory and logical mathematical processing. The morals.The Matrix -. And robots have no trouble thinking of the world around them in multiple dimensions.

However.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_warwick. But by providing a port directly into each human brain. sentient robots in the first place. Humans could be made to lie in individual pod-like wombs. for many there is a fruitless desire to step back into a world gone by. robots that can out-think them. In my own book. Simply treating humans as slaves would always bring about problems of resistance. For the machines. Probably in this world of machine dominance there would be a few renegade humans causing trouble. Naturally. humans have already had much success in polluting the atmosphere and wrecking the ozone layer. So it is with the Matrix. to supply robots with their necessary energy.Our Future? humans. in effect – would seem to be a perfectly natural line of attack in an attempt to deprive machines of energy. Even having created intelligent. an attempt to go back to the good old times. obtaining energy from the sun—a constant source—would let them bypass humans. Indeed. to feed the machine-led world with power. excluding them from the loop. if you like—is a much sweeter solution. But as we know. perhaps in retaliation. use humans as slave labourers. and more complete. snapping at the heels of the machine authorities in an attempt to wrestle back power for humans. we must consider this as one possible scenario. I had put forth the idea that the machines would. http://whatisthematrix. acting rather like a collection of battery cells.warnerbros. their food source would be an ideal target.html (3 of 12) [4/8/2003 16:58:01] . so blocking out the sun’s rays – scorching the sky. a dream world. actually using humans as a source of energy—batteries. Yet it is in human dreams that the Matrix machines have brought about a happy balance.The Matrix -. In the Mind of the Machine2. It is a strange dichotomy of human existence that as a species we are driven by progress—it is central to our being—yet at the same time. the humans’ last hope would be to find a weak spot in the robot armoury. a chink in their life-support mechanism.

but rather are Cyborgs. I considered myself to be a Cyborg: part human. Even now we know that scientifically it would be quite possible to measure. In The Matrix. and most of the other humans. signals transmitted onto my nervous system were clearly recognisable in my brain. Meanwhile. the story revolves around the battle between humans and intelligent robots. each have their own brain port. transmitted via the Internet. the level of contentment experienced by each person.warnerbros.html (4 of 12) [4/8/2003 16:58:01] . When out of the Matrix. and it will be with us within a decade at most.The Matrix -. Cyborg.Our Future? each individual can be fed a reality with which he or she is happy. part machine. http://whatisthematrix. signals from my brain. So what about the practical realities of the brain port? I myself have. The real battle then becomes not one of humans versus intelligent robots but of Cyborgs versus intelligent robots. operated a robot hand in the UK. creating for each one a contented existence in a sort of dream world.’3 had a 100-pin port that allowed for both signal input and output connected into my central nervous system. Yet Neo. there can be no question that they are no longer human. my brain was directly connected to a computer and thence on to the network. along the lines of that in the Matrix. In one experiment conducted while I was in New York City. The only technical problem is how one would go about feeding a storyline directly into a brain. in a variety of ways. II. is not only a scientific best guess for the future. but while they are in the Matrix. they are undoubtedly human.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_warwick. as reported in ‘I. I am working on such a port now. A brain port. Human or Machine With the port connected into my nervous system.

as in the Matrix.Our Future? The status of an individual whilst within the Matrix raises several key issues. my own conclusion is that there can be no absolute reality. Using the common element. when they are connected are Neo. networked machine element. Morpheus. whereas computer-brained robots are invariably networked. When connected into a network. individuality takes on a different form. usually human element. Perhaps a more pertinent approach can be drawn from Berkeley. who denied the existence of a physical world. who appeared to want to make distinctions between dream states and ‘reality’. and as in my own case as a Cyborg. perhaps the most prominent being that of Descartes. there can be no absolute truth — whether we be human. Cyborg. Each individual brain draws its conclusions and makes assumptions as to the reality it faces at an instant. who scorned the idea of objective truth. dependant on the input it receives.’ He raises questions as to what is real. Morpheus describes this (as do others throughout the film) as ‘having a dream.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_warwick.html (5 of 12) [4/8/2003 16:58:01] . ‘reality’ can be downloaded into each brain. If only limited sensory input is forthcoming. or robot. and then a common. By making the basic assumption that there is no God. sharing common brain elements with others? It must be remembered that ordinarily human brains operate in a stand-alone mode. As a result he faced further problems in defining absolute truths. There is a unique. and Trinity individuals within the Matrix? Or do they have brains which are part human.The Matrix -. immediately leading to problems in defining what was real and what was not. then brain memory banks (or injected feelings) need to be tapped for a brain http://whatisthematrix.warnerbros. and Nietzsche. part machine? Are they themselves effectively a node on the Matrix. For example. He asks how it is possible to know the difference between the dream world and the real world. This line of questioning follows on from many philosophical discussions.

far from being an absolute. not his or her brain. Trinity perhaps as God or the holy spirit.html (6 of 12) [4/8/2003 16:58:01] . often coming to unlikely conclusions.The Matrix -.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_warwick. and Cypher as Judas Iscariot. that such an individual will draw a conclusion about what is perceived that is very much at variance with the conclusion of other individuals. The temptation to see a religious undertone in The Matrix is interesting — with Morpheus cast as the prophet John the Baptist. the individual thinks it must be the world that has changed. surely its creativity. it is more usually the case. In some types of schizophrenia this conclusion can be confused and can change over time. all-powerful machine network. Neo clearly as the messiah. itself? With an intellect well above that of collective humanity. a brain links its state with its common-sense memory banks. there is a possibility for alternative viewpoints to be proposed by different nodes on the network. the brain’s workings can change. taking on his role as victor over the evil Matrix: a holy war against a seemingly invincible.Our Future? to conceive of a storyline. what is deemed by society to be ‘reality’ at any point. At any instant. But. But what of the machine network. In other words. As a brain ages. turn the other cheek. This is not something that individual humans are used to. Where a brain is part of a network. approach. Neo’s is closer to one that perhaps was actually expected by many of the messiah himself. far from a Gandhi-like. is merely a commonly agreed set of values based on the perceptions of a group of individuals. An individual brain tends to draw only one conclusion at a time. the Matrix. this often appears to the individual to be a change in what is perceived rather than a change in that which is perceiving. its artistic sense. the traitor. its http://whatisthematrix. or as a result of an accident. For the most part. though. however.warnerbros.

When I find myself in a discussion of the possibility of intelligent machines taking over things." What a fool I was not to have thought of it!! How could I have missed that little snippet? Of course it is not only the Matrix but even today’s common Internet that gives http://whatisthematrix. merely regard it as an evil. it was not the Germans or Germany who the allies were fighting but Adolf Hitler. it is Bin-Laden who is behind it all.html (7 of 12) [4/8/2003 16:58:01] . part human. rather. Possibly humans would see both the Matrix and Agents as the enemy. that there is an individual behind it all. just as the Matrix and Agents would so regard humans – but once inside the Matrix the picture is not so clear. As humans. perhaps Cypher excluded here.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_warwick. It is almost as though we cannot even conceive of a group or collection running amuck. meanwhile in Afghanistan.The Matrix -.Our Future? value for aesthetics would be a treat to behold. nine times out of ten I am told—following a little chuckle to signify that I have overlooked a blindingly obvious point—that "If a machine causes a problem you can always switch it off. but believe. in that it is not some crazed individual up to no good. we are used to one powerful individual being the main instigator. but the Matrix – a network. who are your friends and who are your enemies? It is no longer black and white when you are part machine. In the second world war. Meanwhile the Agents are seen almost as faceless automatons.warnerbros. But the film keeps this aspect from us – perhaps to be revealed in a sequel. ruthless killers. III. This in itself is an important revelation. Humans released from the Matrix grip. the brains behind everything. In and Out of Control Morpheus tells Neo that the Matrix is control. strictly obeying the will of their Matrix overlord. Yet in the Matrix we are faced with a much more realistic scenario. As a Cyborg.

and cuts the chuckle short. In the western world we are more used to chemicals being used to change our brain and body state. indeed.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_warwick. Humans are happy to act as an energy source for the Matrix as long as they themselves believe that the reality of their existence is to their liking.html (8 of 12) [4/8/2003 16:58:01] . Ultimately. but to bring down the whole Internet? Of course we can’t. including chemically instigated hallucinations. Neo learns that the Matrix is a computer-generated dream world aimed at keeping humans under control. Utilising the electronic element of the electrochemical signals on which the human brain and nervous system operate. how is it practically possible to switch off the Internet? We’re not talking theory here. Why live in a world that is not to your liking if a Matrix state is able to keep your bodily functions operating http://whatisthematrix. rely on its operation for their everyday existence. or even a small subsection intranet. Conversely. it is a Matrix of today that we cannot switch off.The Matrix -. both humans and machines. we’re talking practice. Even now. Okay. either for medicinal purposes or through narcotics. powered partly by electrical signals and partly by chemicals. how are the human nodes in a position to know what is computer-generated reality and what is reality generated in some other way? A stand-alone human brain operates electrochemically. electronic signals will be able to replace the chemicals that release memories and "download" memories not previously held. over which we cannot have ultimate control.warnerbros. It is not a Matrix of the future that we will not be able to switch off.Our Future? us the answer. electronics signals can be injected to stimulate movement or pleasure. But now we are entering the world of e-medicine. counterbalancing signals can be sent to key nerve fibre groups to overcome a medical problem. Too many entities. it is of course possible to unplug one computer.

The Matrix comes fifty years later. mobile phones. I experienced no negatives at all.warnerbros. was published in 1948. switched on lights. we have witnessed the likes of radar. I felt very positive about the whole thing. and even gave me a welcoming "Hello" as I arrived. In the meantime. television for all. a computer network was able to monitor my movements. although I gave up some of my individual humanity. In fact.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_warwick.The Matrix -. Ignorance and Bliss In a sense. and the Internet. In return it opened doors for me. I was happy with having Big Brother watching me because. for which I had no medical reason (merely scientific curiosity). It knew what time I entered a room and when I left. I gained something as a result of being monitored and tracked. What would Orwell’s Big Brother have been like if he had had those technologies at his disposal – would Big Brother have been far from the Matrix? With the first implant I received. But 1984.html (9 of 12) [4/8/2003 16:58:01] . computers. I benefited from the system doing things for me.Our Future? whilst you live out a life in a world in which you are happy with yourself? The world of the Matrix would appear to be one that lies in the direction humanity is now heading—a direction in which it would seem. space travel. The Matrix is nothing more than a modern day "Big Brother. in 1998. as we defer more and more to machines to make up our minds for us." taking on a machine form rather than the Orwellian vision of a powerful individual using machines to assist and bring about an all-powerful status. the novel in which the story of Big Brother was presented. Would the same not be true of the Matrix? Why would anyone want to experience the relatively tough and dangerous life of being an individual human when he or she could be part of the Matrix? http://whatisthematrix. IV. that we wish to head.

When we eat one. yet we know it doesn’t quite exist in the form our brain is imagining. and is devoid of vitamins.The Matrix -. if our brains can be connected. would we plug into it for life? The question is. is mainly fat. Nozick asks. living the dangerous. tired. When we enter we know. We can thus understand Cypher’s choice. our brains have been conditioned into believing is the tastiest burger imaginable. by whatever means. through advertising. what else could matter http://whatisthematrix. with all the nourishment you need? Due to the deal he made with Agent Smith. that he is eating a nice juicy steak. because we’ve seen the scientific papers. and serves as an immediate exhibition of Cypher’s dilemma. Yet we still buy such burgers by the billion. Remember that being reinserted is actually good for the Matrix. As he eats his steak he says. our conditioned brain is somehow telling us that it is juicy and delicious. "I know that this steak doesn’t exist." But is it ignorance? His brain is telling him. by electrodes.warnerbros. when you can exist in a blissfully happy life. I know when I put it in my mouth. How many times do we nowadays enter a fast-food burger bar in order to partake of a burger that. the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious!" He goes on to conclude that "Ignorance is bliss. although it is not so good for the renegade humans who are fighting the system. He appears to have nothing at all to lose. to a machine which gives us any experiences we desire. poor.html (10 of 12) [4/8/2003 16:58:01] . starving life of a disenfranchised human.Our Future? So here we come on to the case of Cypher. Robert Nozick’s thought experiment puts us all to the test.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_warwick. that the burger contains a high percentage of water. The only negative aspect is that before he is reinserted he may experience some inner moral human pangs of good or bad. Why be out of the Matrix. once Cypher is back inside he will have no knowledge of having made any deal in the first place.

the individual creatures still had a role to play. when the state of a human brain is merely partly due to a genetic program and partly due to life’s experience? Indeed. But once inside. experiences free will or not.warnerbros. It could be said that Cypher. albeit merely that of pressing a button.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_warwick.The Matrix -. simply by pressing a button. is exercising his free will. This ties in directly with the Matrix. as part of the Matrix.html (11 of 12) [4/8/2003 16:58:01] . even leading to starvation (although individuals were quite happy even about that). principally chimpanzees and rats. however.Our Future? other than how we feel our lives are going. for example that we value being a certain type of person. exactly the same thing is true for a robot. it is assumed that a certain amount of mental free will is allowed for. we actually wish to do certain things rather than just have the experience of doing them. we want to be decent. from the inside? Nozick himself argued that other things do matter to us. I disagree completely with Nozick. When given the choice of pushing a button for pleasure or a button for food. http://whatisthematrix. Research involving a variety of creatures. but it must be remembered. at the same time. has allowed them to directly stimulate pleasure zones in their own brain. an important question whether or not an individual. It is. it is the pleasure button that has been pressed over and over again. that each individual is lying in a pod with all his or her life-sustaining mechanisms taken care of and an interactive storyline being played down into his or her brain. within the mental reality projected on an individual by the Matrix. will he still be able to exhibit free will then? Isn’t it essentially a similar situation to that proposed by Nozick? Certainly. in deciding to re-enter the Matrix. which also allows for each individual mentally experiencing a world in which he or she is active and has a role to play. Importantly. Is that free will? What is free will anyway.

they are not kept alive by chemicals merely for the sake of keeping them alive.uk 3.Our Future? In the Matrix. In the Mind of the Machine. Cyborg. Who therefore wouldn’t want to support and belong to the Matrix. Available on www.co.. which is morally far superior to our Neolithic morals of today. The Matrix would appear to be more morally responsible to its human subjects than are human subjects to themselves. 1 September 2001 2. not even the unborn—there is no abortion.html (12 of 12) [4/8/2003 16:58:01] .kevinwarwick.com Footnotes 1.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_warwick. I. Hawking.uk http://whatisthematrix. We really need to clamp down on the party-pooper Neos of this world and get into the future as soon as we can—a future in which we can be part of a Matrix system. www. Kevin Warwick www.amazon.warnerbros. Arrow.The Matrix -. Available on www. dinosaurs from the past when humans ruled the earth. 2002. especially when it is making life easier for its subjects? Neo is kidnapped by Luddites. It’s not the future. naturally dying humans are allowed to die naturally and are used as food for the living. We are in reality heading towards a world run by machines with an intelligence far superior to that of an individual human. But by linking into the network and becoming a Cyborg. no human fuel cells are killed. S. "Hawking's plan to offest computer threat to humans". Ananova.amazon. Century. 1998. Yet.ananova/news. Importantly.co. life can appear to be even better than it is now.

Wake Up!

At the beginning of The Matrix, a black-clad computer hacker known as Neo falls asleep in front of his computer. A mysterious message appears on the screen: "Wake up, Neo."1 This succinct phrase encapsulates the plot of the film, as Neo struggles with the problem of being imprisoned in a "material" world that is actually a computer simulation program created in the distant future by Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a means of enslaving humanity, by perpetuating ignorance in the form of an illusory perception called "the Matrix." In part, the film crafts its ultimate view of reality by alluding to numerous religious traditions that advance the idea that the fundamental problem which humanity faces is ignorance and the solution is knowledge or awakening. Two religious traditions on which the film draws heavily are Gnostic Christianity and Buddhism.2 Although these traditions differ in important ways, they agree in maintaining that the problem of ignorance can be solved through an individual's reorientation of perspective concerning the material realm.3 Gnostic Christianity and Buddhism also both envision a guide who helps those still trapped in the limiting world of illusion, a Gnostic redeemer figure or a bodhisattva, who willingly enters that world in order to share liberating knowledge, facilitating escape for anyone able to understand. In the film, this figure is Neo, whose name is also an anagram for the "One." Although as a "modern myth"4 the film purposefully draws on numerous traditions,5 we propose that an examination of Gnostic Christianity and Buddhism well illuminates the overarching paradigm of The Matrix, namely, the

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Wake Up!

problem of sleeping in ignorance in a dreamworld, solved by waking to knowledge or enlightenment. By drawing syncretistically on these two ancient traditions and fusing them with a technological vision of the future, the film constructs a new teaching that challenges its audience to question "reality."

I. Christian Elements in The Matrix

The majority of the film's audience probably easily recognizes the presence of some Christian elements, such as the name Trinity6 or Neo's death and Christlike resurrection and ascension near the end of the film. In fact, Christian and biblical allusions abound, particularly with respect to nomenclature:7 Apoc (Apocalypse), Neo's given name of Mr. Ander/son (from the Greek andras for man, thus producing "Son of Man"), the ship named the Nebuchadnezzar (the Babylonian king who, in the Book of Daniel, has puzzling symbolic dreams that must be interpreted),8 and the last remaining human city, Zion, synonymous in Judaism and Christianity with (the heavenly) Jerusalem.9 Neo is overtly constructed as a Jesus figure: he is "the One" who was prophesied to return again to the Matrix, who has the power the change the Matrix from within (i.e., to work miracles), who battles the representatives of evil and who is killed but comes to life again. This construction of Neo as Jesus is reinforced in numerous ways. Within minutes of the commencement of the movie, another hacker says to Neo, "You're my savior, man, my own personal Jesus Christ."10 This identification is also suggested by the Nebuchadnezzar's crew, who nervously wonder if he is "the One" who was foretold, and who repeatedly swear in Neo's presence by saying "Jesus" or "Jesus Christ."11 In still another example, Neo enters the Nebuchadnezzar for the first time and the camera pans across the interior of

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the ship, resting on the make: "Mark III no. 11." This seems to be another messianic reference, since the Gospel of Mark 3:11 reads: "Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, ' You are the Son of God!'" Like Mark's Jesus, Neo is an exorcist, who casts out alien Agents inhabiting the residual self-images of those immersed in the Matrix. However, this trope illuminates the differences between Jesus and Neo, since the latter accomplishes exorcisms not by healing, but by killing the digital bodies of those who are "possessed" by Agents, in turn killing the real people in the world of the Nebuchadnezzar. The plaque, then, ultimately highlights the problem of violence in the film, even as it draws parallels between Jesus and Neo.

II. Gnosticism in The Matrix

Although the presence of individual Christian elements within the film is clear, the overall system of Christianity that is presented is not the traditional, orthodox one. Rather, the Christian elements of the film make the most sense when viewed within a context of Gnostic Christianity.12 Gnosticism was a religious system that flourished for centuries at the beginning of the Common Era, and in many regions of the ancient Mediterranean world it competed strongly with "orthodox" Christianity, while in other areas it represented the only interpretation of Christianity that was known.13 The Gnostics possessed their own Scriptures, accessible to us in the form of the Nag Hammadi Library, from which a general sketch of Gnostic beliefs may be drawn.14 Although Gnostic Christianity comprises many varieties, Gnosticism as a whole seems to have embraced an orienting cosmogonic myth that explains the true nature of the universe and humankind's proper place in it.15 A brief retelling of this myth

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illuminates numerous parallels with The Matrix. In the Gnostic myth, the supreme god is completely perfect and therefore alien and mysterious, "ineffable," "unnamable," "immeasurable light which is pure, holy and immaculate" (Apocryphon of John). In addition to this god there are other, lesser divine beings in the pleroma (akin to heaven, a division of the universe that is not Earth), who possess some metaphorical gender of male or female.16 Pairs of these beings are able to produce offspring that are themselves divine emanations, perfect in their own ways.17 A problem arises when one "aeon" or being named Sophia (Greek for wisdom), a female, decides "to bring forth a likeness out of herself without the consent of the Spirit," that is, to produce an offspring without her consort (Apocry. of John). The ancient view was that females contribute the matter in reproduction, and males the form; thus, Sophia's action produces an offspring that is imperfect or even malformed, and she casts it away from the other divine beings in the pleroma into a separate region of the cosmos. This malformed, ignorant deity, sometimes named Yaldaboath, mistakenly believes himself to be the only god. Gnostics identify Yaldabaoth as the Creator God of the Old Testament, who himself decides to create archons (angels), the material world (Earth) and human beings. Although traditions vary, Yaldabaoth is usually tricked into breathing the divine spark or spirit of his mother Sophia that formerly resided in him into the human being (especially Apocry. of John; echoes of Genesis 23). Therein lies the human dilemma. We are pearls in the mud, a divine spirit (good) trapped in a material body (bad) and a material realm (bad). Heaven is our true home, but we are in exile from the pleroma. Luckily for the Gnostic, salvation is available in the form of gnosis or knowledge imparted by a Gnostic redeemer, who is Christ, a figure sent from
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the higher God to free humankind from the Creator God Yaldabaoth. The gnosis involves an understanding of our true nature and origin, the metaphysical reality hitherto unknown to us, resulting in the Gnostic's escape (at death) from the enslaving material prison of the world and the body, into the upper regions of spirit. However, in order to make this ascent, the Gnostic must pass by the archons, who are jealous of his/her luminousity, spirit or intelligence, and who thus try to hinder the Gnostic's upward journey. To a significant degree, the basic Gnostic myth parallels the plot of The Matrix, with respect to both the problem that humans face as well as the solution. Like Sophia, we conceived an offspring out of our own pride, as Morpheus explains: "Early in the 21st century, all of mankind was united in celebration. We marveled at our own magnificence as we gave birth to AI."18 This offspring of ours, however, like Yaldabaoth is malformed (matter without spirit?). Morpheus describes AI as "a singular consciousness that spawned an entire race of machines," a fitting parallel for the Gnostic Creator God of the archons (angels) and the illusory material world. AI creates the Matrix, a computer simulation that is "a prison for your mind." Thus, Yaldabaoth/ AI traps humankind in a material prison that does not represent ultimate reality, as Morpheus explains to Neo: "As long as the Matrix exists, the human race will never be free." The film also echoes the metaphorical language employed by Gnostics. The Nag Hammadi texts describe the fundamental human problem in metaphorical terms of blindness, sleep, ignorance, dreams and darkness / night, while the solution is stated in terms of seeing, waking, knowledge (gnosis), waking from dreams and light / day.19 Similarly, in the film Morpheus, whose name is taken from the Greek god of

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as in a dream. The parallels between Neo and Christ sketched earlier are further illuminated by a Gnostic context. the material world] real. Morpheus explains that the blows he deals Neo in the martial arts training program have nothing to do with his body or speed or strength. the Matrix. which allows him to break the rules of the material world he now perceives to be an illusion. In fact. which he passes on to others. he is doubting Thomas. as Morpheus explains. since Neo is "saved" through gnosis or secret knowledge." When Neo is unplugged and awakens for the first time on the Nebuchadnezzar in a brightly lit white space (a cinematic code for heaven). it is this gnosis that Neo passes on to others in order to free them from the prison of their minds. he learns that "the mind makes it [the Matrix. Like an ancient Gnostic." but it is not ultimately real. which reverberates with the most famous Gnostic gospel. Neo learns about the true structure of reality and about his own true identity. because he has never used them. it is Thomas Anderson.Wake Up! sleep and dreams. a figure from another realm who enters the material world in order to impart saving knowledge about humankind's true identity and the true structure of reality. the http://whatisthematrix. before he is actualized as Neo (the one who will initiate something "New.20 In fact. reveals to Neo that the Matrix is "a computer generated dreamworld. thereby setting free anyone able to understand the message. created through software simulation. Neo's given name is not only Mr. the Gospel of Thomas. Also. they depend only on his mind. In the final scene of the film. That is. Rather. who does not believe in his role as the redeemer figure. which are illusory.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_wakeup. which is real. Anderson / the Son of Man. his eyes hurt. He functions as a Gnostic Redeemer." since he is indeed "the One").warnerbros.html (6 of 25) [4/8/2003 16:58:33] . Everything Neo has "seen" up to that point was seen with the mind's eye.

Imbued with images from eastern traditions. AI created these artificial programs to be "the gatekeepers . fear nothing.And when you becomes perfect in that place. the role played by Keanu Reeves has a twin character.. withdraw to the Existence. this concept of "stillness" is also present in Gnosticism. in good Gnostic fashion. since he is constructed as both a doubting Thomas and as a Gnostic Christ figure." and in ancient Christian legend he is Jesus' twin brother.Wake Up! name Thomas means "the Twin.21 Not only does Neo learn and pass on secret knowledge that saves. in that the higher aeons are equated with "stillness" and "rest" and can only be apprehended in such a centered and meditative manner. as is apparent in these instructions to a certain Allogenes: "And although it is impossible for you to stand." of freeing the mind and overcoming fear. In a sense..22 Interestingly enough. and I heard the Blessedness whereby I knew my proper self" (Allogenes). " (Allogenes) The Gnostic then reveals. a reflective Keanu Reeves silently and calmly contemplates the bullets that he has stopped in mid-air. but if you wish to stand. Neo and anyone else attempting to leave the Matrix. the training programs teach Neo the concept of "stillness. but the way in which he learns also evokes some elements of Gnosticism. they are http://whatisthematrix...html (7 of 25) [4/8/2003 16:58:33] . and you will find it standing and at rest after the likeness of the One who is truly at rest.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_wakeup." that the Matrix is only a dreamworld. and their opposition to the equivalent of the Gnostics . filmed in "Bullet Time.23 When Neo realizes the full extent of his "saving gnosis.they are guarding all the doors." Yet another parallel with Gnosticism occurs in the portrayal of the Agents such as Agent Smith. "There was within me a stillness of silence.that is. cinematically captured in "Bullet Time" (digitally mastered montages of freeze frames / slow motion frames using multiple cameras).warnerbros. still yourself.

since Neo is subsequently able to break rules that the Agent cannot.Wake Up! holding all the keys.g. Neo is eventually able to defeat the Agents because while they must adhere to the rules of the Matrix." Both the film and the Gnostics assert that the "divine spark" within humans allows a perception of gnosis greater than that achievable by even the chief archon / agent of Yaldabaoth: And the power of the mother [Sophia. is not equated in the film merely with rational intelligence.. and his intelligence ["mind"] was greater than that of those who had made him. and that he could think better than they. something the Agent apparently cannot do.warnerbros. Apocalypse of Paul). as the phrase goes. his human mind allows him to bend or break these rules. and greater than that of the chief archon [Agent Smith?]. portrayed through special effects as light shattering Smith from the inside out. they took him and threw him into the lowest region of all matter [simulated by the Matrix]. otherwise Artificial Intelligence would win every time.html (8 of 25) [4/8/2003 16:58:33] . of John 19-20) It is striking that Neo overcomes Agent Smith in the final showdown of the film precisely by realizing fully the illusion of the Matrix.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_wakeup. http://whatisthematrix.. because he had come into being through all of them and they had given their power to the man. Rather.." These Agents are akin to the jealous archons created by Yaldabaoth who block the ascent of the Gnostic as he/she tries to leave the material realm and guard the gates of the successive levels of heaven (e. for intuition. as Morpheus predicts.24 However.. though. the concept of "mind" in the film appears to point to a uniquely human capacity for imagination. in our analogy. or.. And when they recognized that he was luminous. And in that moment the rest of the powers [archons / Agents ] became jealous. His final defeat of Smith entails entering Smith's body and splitting him in pieces by means of pure luminosity. (Apocry. for "thinking outside the box.25 Mind. humankind] went out of Yaldabaoth [AI] into the natural body which they had fashioned [the humans grown on farms by AI].

26 light vs. especially the delineation of humanity's fundamental problem of existing in a dreamworld that simulates reality and the solution of waking up from illusion.27 However.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_wakeup. On one level.28 However. where is God in the film? In other words. the system portrayed in The Matrix parallels Gnostic Christianity in numerous respects. the film does open up the possibility of a God through the figure of the Oracle.that is. in The Matrix both the catastrophe and its solution are of human making ."29 Divinity may also play a role in Neo's past incarnation and his coming again as the One. The central mythic figures of Sophia. given that Gnosticism presumes an entire unseen realm of divine beings. is this a symbol for divinity. then.30 it remains transcendent. Yaldabaoth. The language of Gnosticism and the film are even similar: dreaming vs. This suggestion is even stronger in the original screenplay. the archons and the Gnostic Christ redeemer also each find parallels with key figures in the film and function in similar ways.31 http://whatisthematrix. or for human potential? The question becomes even more pertinent with the identification of humankind with Sophia a divine being in Gnosticism. there appears to be no God in the film. when Neo becomes sheer light. there is some implied divinity in the film. in which the Oracle's apartment is the Holy of Holies nested within the "Temple of Zion. the divine is not apparent.Wake Up! Overall.html (9 of 25) [4/8/2003 16:58:33] . like the divinity of the ineffable. who dwells inside the Matrix and yet has access to information about the future that even those free from the Matrix do not possess. If. Conrad Ostwalt rightly argues that unlike conventional Christian apocalypses. except where it is immanent in the form of the divine spark active in humans. invisible supreme god in Gnosticism. dark. seeing. waking. Although there are apocalyptic motifs.warnerbros. on another level. blindness vs. however.

which we associate with what we feel. The same hacker says: "This never happened. Even the title of the film evokes the Buddhist worldview. we could say that "because it is empty of self or of what belongs to self. Morpheus explains."32 Indeed." The "real" world.Wake Up! III. taste. "is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain. Almost immediately after Neo is identified as "my own personal Jesus Christ." In Buddhist terms. which teaches that the world in which we live our daily lives is constructed only from the sensory projections formulated from our own desires. The Matrix is described by Morpheus as "a prison for your mind." The world. You don’t exist. Neo learns that the way in which he had perceived himself in the Matrix was nothing more than "the mental projection of your digital self. exists "now only as part of a neural interactive simulation that we call the Matrix. Buddhist ideas pervade the film and appear in close proximity with the equally strong Christian imagery. When Morpheus takes Neo into the "construct" to teach him about the Matrix. and see. the Wachowski brothers offered an unqualified "Yes. Buddhist teachings form a foundation for much of the film’s plot and imagery. it is therefore said: http://whatisthematrix." From the stupa-like33 pods which encase humans in the horrific mechanistic fields to Cypher’s selfish desire for the sensations and pleasures of the Matrix." It is a dependent "construct" made up of the interlocking digital projections of billions of human beings who are unaware of the illusory nature of the reality in which they live and are completely dependent on the hardware attached to their real bodies and the elaborate software programs created by AI This "construct" resembles the Buddhist idea of samsara." this appellation is given a distinctively Buddhist twist.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_wakeup. smell. Buddhism in The Matrix When asked by a fan if Buddhist ideas influenced them in the production of the movie.34 The Problem of Samsara.html (10 of 25) [4/8/2003 16:58:33] .warnerbros.

material shapes. Only when humans interact with its programs do they become enmeshed in a corporately-created illusion.37 The problem. if this is not that does not come to be. Buddhism teaches that the suffering of human beings is dependent upon a cycle of ignorance and desire which locks humans into a repetitive cycle of birth.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_wakeup. and desire keeps humans locked in illusion until they are able to recognize the false nature of reality and relinquish their mistaken sense of identity. the Matrix. which reinforces itself through the interactions of those beings involved within it.36 The idea of Dependent Co-Origination is illustrated in the context of the film through the illusion of the Matrix. no illusion at all. AI’s software program is. impression on the eye -. Thus the Matrix’s reality only exists when actual human minds subjectively experience its programs. visual consciousness. Similarly. from the arising of this that arises.’ And what is empty of self and what belongs to self? The eye.all these are empty of self and of what belongs to self. the conviction of reality based upon sensory experience. can be seen in Buddhist terms. then. death. from the stopping of this that is stopped. or samsara. ignorance."35 According to Buddhism and according to The Matrix. in and of itself. The principle is stated in a short formula in the Samyutta-nikaya: If this is that comes to be. and rebirth.warnerbros. The viability of the Matrix’s illusion depends upon the belief by those enmeshed in it that the Matrix itself is reality. the film presents reality within the Matrix as a conglomerate of the illusions of all humans caught within its snare. Humans are trapped in a http://whatisthematrix.html (11 of 25) [4/8/2003 16:58:33] .Wake Up! ‘The world is empty. Drawing upon the Buddhist doctrine of Dependent Co-Origination.

who can no longer tolerate the "desert of the real" and asks to be reinserted into the Matrix. As he sits with Agent Smith in an upscale restaurant smoking a cigar with a large glass of brandy. but he also wants to be an "actor. I know this steak doesn’t exist. the rest of the crew epitomize the restraint and composure praised http://whatisthematrix. These projections are strengthened by humans’ enormous desire to believe that what they perceive to be real is in fact real. the "ignorance" of samsara is preferable to enlightenment. you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss. Denying the reality that he now experiences beyond the Matrix.html (12 of 25) [4/8/2003 16:58:33] . Cypher explains his motives: "You know. After nine years. the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious.Wake Up! cycle of illusion. but Mouse also may be said to have been overwhelmed by the lures of samsara." Not only does Cypher want to forget the "nothing" of true reality.39 The draw of samsara is so strong that not only does Cypher give in to his cravings. Yet for him." to add another level of illusion to the illusion of the Matrix that he is choosing to re-enter. since his death is at least in part due to distractions brought on by his sexual fantasies about the "woman in the red dress" which occupy him when he is supposed to be standing alert. fully dependent upon their own interactions with the program and the illusions of sensory experience which these provide. I know that when I put it in my mouth. and their ignorance of this cycle keeps them locked in it. Nothing. and the sensory projections of others.warnerbros. he uses the double negative: "I don’t want to remember nothing. This desire is so strong that it overcomes Cypher. Like an actor. Someone important."38 Cypher knows that the Matrix is not real and that any pleasures he experiences there are illusory.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_wakeup. Whereas Cypher and Mouse represent what happens when one gives in to samsara. And I want to be rich.

" For Theravada Buddhists. no more shalt thou http://whatisthematrix. the crew is depicted enacting the Middle Way taught by the Buddha. Morpheus explains.warnerbros. which is to free all minds from the Matrix and allow humans to live out their lives in the real world beyond. The scene shifts abruptly from the restaurant to the mess hall of the Nebuchadnezzar. free thyself from the future. where instead of being offered brandy. Crossing to the farther shore of existence. "No one can be told what the Matrix is. the film suggests that enlightenment is achieved through individual effort. with mind released everywhere. and not on the benevolent grace of a god or any external power as a reward for his obedient good behavior. and sleeping in bare cells. In contrast to the pleasures which for Cypher can only be fulfilled in the Matrix. He says: "I’m trying to free your mind. "man’s emancipation depends on his own realization of the Truth. free thyself from the present.Wake Up! by the Buddha. You’re the one that has to walk through it."43 The Dhammapada urges the one seeking enlightenment to "Free thyself from the past. the film-makers draw on both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist ideas. subsisting on gruel. allowing neither absolute asceticism nor indulgence to distract them from their work.html (13 of 25) [4/8/2003 16:58:33] . This duality between the Matrix and the reality beyond it sets up the ultimate goal of the rebels. You have to see it for yourself." Clad in threadbare clothes. But I can only show you the door. Neo. In making this point." Morpheus tells Neo he must make the final shift in perception entirely on his own. Morpheus makes it clear that Neo cannot depend upon him for enlightenment.42 As his initial guide.41 Alluding to the Theravada ideal of the arhat. vitamins. and minerals" which Dozer claims is "everything the body needs.40 The Solution of Knowledge/Enlightenment. cigars and steak.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_wakeup. Neo and the crew must be content with the "single-celled protein combined with synthetic aminos. Neo is given the "bowl of snot" which is to be his regular meal from that point forward.

" And as the Buddha taught his followers. Rather than remain outside of the Matrix where they are safer. Neo’s identity as the Buddha is reinforced not only through the anagram of his name but also through the myth that surrounds him. they choose to re-enter it repeatedly as ambassadors of knowledge with the ultimate goal of freeing the minds and eventually also the bodies of those who are trapped within the Matrix’s digital web. "You yourselves should make the effort. suggesting that while the crew may be looked at as arhats and bodhisattvas.html (14 of 25) [4/8/2003 16:58:33] . Neo can be seen as a Buddha. Neo as the Buddha. while simultaneously arguing that final realization is an individual process. end the war. The Oracle has foretold the return of one who has the ability to manipulate the Matrix. bring freedom to our people. As Morpheus explains. presenting the crew as concerned for those still stuck in the Matrix and willing to re-enter the Matrix to help them. The film attempts to blend the Theravada ideal of the arhat with the Mahayana ideal of the bodhisattva. Morpheus is only a guide.Wake Up! come to birth and decay. the return of this man "would hail the destruction of the Matrix. Although the entire crew embodies the ideals of the bodhisattva."45 As one already on the path to enlightenment. especially in its particular concern for liberation for all people through the guidance of those who remain in samsara and postpone their own final enlightenment in order to help others as bodhisattvas. ultimately Neo must recognize the truth for himself."44 As Morpheus says to Neo. http://whatisthematrix. the filmmakers set Neo apart as unique. That is why there are those of us who have spent our entire lives searching the Matrix.warnerbros. Yet The Matrix also embraces ideas found in Mahayana Buddhism. "There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. the Awakened Ones are only teachers.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_wakeup.46 The crew members of the Nebuchadnezzar epitomize this compassion.

warnerbros. is a reincarnation of that man and like the Buddha. The second consists of Neo’s life as Thomas Anderson. At least four incarnations are perceptible in the film. his enlightenment grants him omniscience and he is no longer under the power of the Matrix. Neo’s fourth life begins after he dies and is "reborn" again in the closing scenes of the film.49 Neo.html (15 of 25) [4/8/2003 16:58:33] . since he overcomes death in both realms. one who can http://whatisthematrix. The first birth took place in the prehistory of the film.47 He emerges at the bottom bald. Having "died" to the world of the Matrix. and is unplugged and dropped through a large black tube which can easily be seen as a birth canal.48 At this point. death. Neo represents the actualization of the Buddha-nature. he will be endowed with extraordinary powers to aid in the enlightenment of all humanity. and any use of superhuman powers are engaged to that end. with eyes that Morpheus tells him have "never been used" before." Neo. seeks to be free from the Matrix and to teach others how to free themselves from it as well. The third begins when Neo emerges. As the only human being since the first enlightened one who is able to freely manipulate the software of the Matrix from within its confines. like the Buddha. as Trinity resuscitates him with a kiss. Morpheus believes. Like the Buddha. and rebirth within AI’s mechanical construct.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_wakeup. nor is he subject to birth. but also the limitations of the world of the Nebuchadnezzar. and confused.Wake Up! looking for him. naked. The idea that Neo can be seen as a reincarnation of the Buddha is reinforced by the prevalence of birth imagery in the film directly related to him. Neo has been "reborn" into the world beyond it. in the life and death of the first enlightened one who was able to control the Matrix from within. Neo perceives not only the limitations of the Matrix. from the gel of the eerily stupa-like pod in which he has been encased. gasping.

But what happens when the Matrix’s version of reality is dissolved? Buddhism teaches that when samsara is transcended.Wake Up! not only recognize the "origin of pain in the world of living beings.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_wakeup. In other words. nirvana is attained. The Buddhist doctrine of http://whatisthematrix. The notion of self is completely lost. defies the ability of language to describe. and what remains."50 In this sense. sense of self which strongly resembles his "self" within the Matrix. Trinity may be right that the Matrix "cannot tell you who you are. or no-where. if anything. since even freed from the Matrix they are still subject to suffering and death and still exhibit individual egos. The Problem of Nirvana. there is enough continuity in self-identity between the world of the Matrix and "the desert of the real" that it seems probable that the authors are implying that full "enlightenment" has not yet been reached and must lie beyond the reality of the Nebuchadnezzar and the world it inhabits. however." but who you are seems to be at least in some sense related to who you think you are in the Matrix. and offers the hope of awakening and freedom for all humans from the ignorance that binds them. he is more than his bodhisattva companions. Neo retains the "residual self-image" and the "mental projection of [a] digital self. so that conditional reality fades away." Upon "enlightenment.html (16 of 25) [4/8/2003 16:58:33] . then we have to expect at least one more layer of "reality" beyond the world of the crew. but in a different place with an intact." enacting "that course which leads to its stopping. If the Buddhist paradigm is followed to its logical conclusions.warnerbros." but who can also envision "the stopping of the pain. In his re-entry into the Matrix. if somewhat confused. This idea is reinforced by what may be the most problematic alteration which The Matrix makes to traditional Buddhist teachings." he finds himself not in nirvana.

51 It appears as if the filmmakers deliberately chose to link violence with salvific knowledge. since there seems to be no way that the crew could succeed without the help of weaponry.53 and as absolutely essential to the success of the rebels.lots of guns. is overtly contradicted in the film. Neither the "stillness" of the pleroma nor the unchanging "nothingness" of nirvana are characterized by the dependence on technology and the use of force which so characterizes both of the worlds of the rebels in The Matrix.html (17 of 25) [4/8/2003 16:58:33] . The Matrix steers sharply away at this point from the shared paradigms of Buddhism and Gnostic Christianity. Instead." their reply is instantaneous: "Guns -. or non-injury to all living beings. The film’s explicit association of knowledge with violence strongly implies that Neo and his comrades have not yet realized the ultimate reality. When Tank asks Neo and Trinity what they need for their rescue of Morpheus "besides a miracle. the realization of ultimate reality involves a complete freedom from the material realm and offers peace of mind. But why link knowledge so directly with violence? The filmmakers portray violence as redemptive.52 This outright violation of ahimsa stands at direct odds with the Buddhist ideal of compassion." The writers could easily have presented the "deaths" of the Agents as nothing more than the ending of that particular part of the software program. The Wachowskis themselves acknowledge that it is "ironic that Morpheus and his crew are completely http://whatisthematrix.Wake Up! ahimsa.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_wakeup. The "reality" of the Matrix which requires that some humans must die as victims of salvific violence is not the ultimate reality to which Buddhism or Gnostic Christianity points. the Wachowski brothers have purposefully chosen to portray humans as innocent victims of the violent deaths of the Agents.warnerbros. According to the worldviews of both Gnostic Christianity and Buddhism that the film evokes.

they leave behind the material world. the divine plane of spiritual. the "desert of the real. http://whatisthematrix. a state which cannot be described in language. when we ask the question. which is the real material world. Sentinels). the very evils against which they are fighting. the film appears to diverge sharply from Gnosticism and Buddhism. non-material existence. Negating itself."54 Indeed. However. and technology battles technology (Nebuchadnezzar vs." is a wholly material.Wake Up! dependent upon technology and computers. By contrast. Both of these traditions maintain that when humans awaken. Moreover. "To what do we awaken?".warnerbros. the battle against the Matrix is itself made possible through technology .cell phones. software training programs. Concluding Remarks Whether we view the film from a Gnostic Christian or Buddhist perspective. IV. the overwhelming message seems to be.html (18 of 25) [4/8/2003 16:58:33] . but which is utterly non-material. computers. Rage Against the Machine. the film’s very existence depends upon both technology’s capabilities and Hollywood’s hunger for violence. Neo can learn martial arts in seconds through a socket inserted into the back of his brain.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_wakeup. The Gnostic ascends at death to the pleroma. Gnosticism. Buddhism and the film all agree that ignorance enslaves us in an illusory material world and that liberation comes through enlightenment with the aid of a teacher or guide figure. technological world. Wake Up!. electromagnetic pulse vs. AI. in which robots grow humans for energy. The Matrix teaches that nirvana is still beyond our reach. appropriately. and the enlightened one in Buddhism achieves nirvana. "Waking up" in the film is leaving behind the Matrix and awakening to a dismal cyber-world. "Wake up!" The point is made explicit in the final song of the film. by.

And standing there. and then I saw the fields [of humans grown for energy] with my own eyes..com/rl_cmp/new_phil_wakeup.56 Even if the film series does not ultimately establish a complete rejection of the material realm. hardware/ software or illusion/ truth.Wake Up! Or perhaps not. In addition. http://whatisthematrix." Throughout the film.55 As the camera zooms in to the picture on this particular television and the viewer "enters" the image. who never directly views the surface world himself. The Matrix as it stands still asserts the superiority of the human capacity for imagination and realization over the limited "intelligence" of technology. Morpheus. indicating its unreality. as well as images on television monitors point the viewer toward consideration of multiple levels of illusion. I came to realize the obviousness of the truth. the ultimate message of The Matrix seems to be that there may be levels of metaphysical reality beyond what we can ordinarily perceive.." We will have to await the sequels to find out whether "the desert of the real" is itself real. reflections in mirrors and Morpheus's glasses.html (19 of 25) [4/8/2003 16:58:33] .warnerbros. After all. he sees it on a television bearing the logo "Deep Image. Whether stated in terms of matter/ spirit. There are several cinematic clues in the scene of the construct loading program (represented by white space) that suggest that the "desert of the real" Morpheus shows Neo may not be the ultimate reality. Rather. it "morphs" the way the surveillance screens do early in the film. the entire episode takes place while they stand in a construct loading program in which Neo is warned not to be tricked by appearances. Morpheus himself admits that. body/ mind. and the film urges us to open ourselves to the possibility of awakening to them. "For a long time I wouldn't believe it. shows the "real" world to Neo. Although sense perception is clearly not a reliable source for establishing reality. whose name is taken from the god of dreams.

" evoking the traditional Christian schema of an apocalypse followed by life in heaven or paradise. no." in his article "Buddhism.. as he pointedly responds. (www. repr. Zion is where the party would be. such as when Tank says. just to name those I've noticed. Judeo-Christian.00." Although intriguing. where it is still warm." 7...warnerbros. near the Earth's core. Elaine Pagels notes that the similarities between Gnosticism and Buddhism have prompted some scholars to question their interdependence and to wonder whether ". 1 5. How much of that was intentional?" They replied. when asked "Have you ever been told that the Matrix has Gnostic overtones?". 6. Christianity and The Matrix: The Dialectic of MythMaking in Contemporary Cinema. In an online chat with viewers of the DVD. which he rightly calls a "modern myth.. Did the Wachowski brothers also intend the reference to point to the crew's "exile" from Zion or from the surface world? 9. 2. xx-xxi 4. symbolizing both computer code (written in 1s and 0s) and his role as "the One.com/time/magazine/article/0.time.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_wakeup. the Wachowskis acknowledged that the Buddhist references in the film are purposeful.9171. and all of them have multiple meanings." which would seem to be a cinematic code for hell. In a recent interview in Time. "Popular Metaphysics. she rightly maintains that the evidence is inconclusive. Nebuchadnezzar is also the Babylonian king who destroyed the Jerusalem Temple in 586 B. 8.C. "If the war was over tomorrow. 1999 "Matrix Virtual Theatre. 6. the 'living Buddha' appropriately could say what the Gospel of Thomas attributes to the living Jesus.4 no.E. no. 2." by Richard Corliss. "Your movie has many and varied connections to myths and philosophies. Is this a clue that Zion is not the "heaven" we are led to believe it is? 10. (New York: Random House. 1989)." and also note this applies to the numbers as well (Wachowski chat). vol. 153. Jesus.. "All of it" (Wachowski chat). Feminists critics can rejoice when Trinity first reveals her name to Neo. Arthurian. 4.html (20 of 25) [4/8/2003 16:58:33] . since parallel traditions may emerge in different cultures without direct influence. However. James Ford recently explored other Buddhist elements in The Matrix. All unidentified quotes are from The Matrix (Warner Bros. the Wachowskis refer to Nebuchadnezzar in this Danielic context.if the names were changed. The Gnostic Gospels. Elaine Pagels.Wake Up! Frances Flannery-Dailey & Rachel Wagner [Note: This essay originally appeared in The Journal of Religion and FIlm] Endnotes 1. and who exiled the elite of Judean society to Babylon. 303 is the number of the apartment that he http://whatisthematrix. I thought you were a man. and Platonic. 15). The Wachowski brothers indicate that the names were "all chosen carefully. The film also suggests Zion is heaven. Time. Neo's apartment number is 101.html . Ironically." at "Wachowski chat" 3. 1979." Near the end of the film. Egyptian." JRF vol. 1999 Vol. they gave a tantalizingly ambiguous reply: "Do you consider that to be a good thing?" From the Nov. April 19. the film locates Zion "underground.22971." Her quick reply: "Most men do. 1999). See also Conrad Ostwalt's focus on apocalyptic elements of the film in "Armageddon at the Millennial Dawn." for the Journal of Religion and Film. release. A viewer asked the Wachowski brothers. "The Trinity?.

1989). Gnostic texts are cryptic. The Gnostic Gospels (New York: Vintage Books. as if they were sunk in sleep and found themselves in disturbing dreams. there are no physical gender differences among the beings. Egypt. The complete collection of texts may be found in James M. in both we admire the work of our own hands. they see nothing. 1995). This corpus lay dormant for nearly 2000 years until its discovery in 1945 in Nag Hammadi. however. 1990. not esteeming it http://whatisthematrix. The bulk of the following excerpt from the Gnostic "Gospel of Truth" might just as well be taken from the scenes in The Matrix in which Morpheus explains the nature of reality to Neo: Thus they [humans] were ignorant of the Father. for they are nothing. or they take off into the air though they do not even have wings. or they are involved in striking blows.. See Gershom Scholem. Christian or philosophical names. despite its denigration of the Israelite God.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_wakeup. 15.E. Again. and most likely also its own distinctive rituals. truth. that Gnostic Christianity flourished from at least the 2nd . 17. forethought.. Jewish Gnosticism. understanding. ed. 18. Robinson. 13.5th c. 1987). Kurt Rudolph.g. and Talmudic Tradition (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America. who represents Judas Iscariot. which must be reconstructed by modern readers. you scared the B'Jesus outta me. Since the divine beings are composed only of spiritual substances and not matter. there were many illusions at work. with its own scriptures. Depending on the text. or they themselves are killing their neighbors. The literature presupposes familiarity with the myth. 1979. indestructibility. 1978). Autogenes. he being the one whom they did not see. See The Nag Hammadi Library. Merkabah Mysticism.. Bentley Layton. 104-123. and (there were) empty fictions. Either (there is) a place to which they are fleeing. repr. pp. Such is the way of those who have cast ignorance aside from them like sleep. or without strength they come (from) having chased after others. they who were in the midst of all these disturbances.. 170-189. Pigera-Adamas (Apocryphon of John). thought. but the issue is complex and still debated within scholarly circles. grace. The Nag Hammadi Library. or they have fallen from high places. evoking the Trinity. The Gnostic Scriptures (New York: Doubleday.. revised edition. 16. among other figures. 11. Christ. though there is no one even pursuing them. On the Origin of the World and Gospel of Thomas. Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. 14. (New York: HarperCollins. Humanity's characterization also resonates with the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11:19.warnerbros." 12. ironically says to Neo. 124-138. C. These documents are also available on-line at The Nag Hammadi Library Section of The Gnostic Society Library. "Man. 19. perception. Apocryphon of John.html (21 of 25) [4/8/2003 16:58:33] . e.Wake Up! enters and exits in his death / resurrection scene. The traitor Cypher. entrance requirements and a creation story. Elaine Pagels. sometimes (it is as) if people were murdering them. It is clear. with whom we initially explored the Gnostic elements of The Matrix during a public lecture on film at Hendrix College in 2000. This in turn raises questions about the character of Trinity's relationship to Neo in terms of her cinematic construction as divinity. 38-51. reprint of original Brill edition. and no single text clearly explains this myth from beginning to end. The version of the myth presented here relies on such texts as Gospel of Truth. or they are receiving blows themselves.(but) When those who are going through all these things wake up. Gnosticism may have had its origins in Judaism. We would like to thank Donna Bowman. 1960). a plethora of divine beings populate the pleroma. many with Jewish.. foreknowledge. the Spirit..

490-500. went to India points to any historical connection between Buddhism and Hinduism on the one hand and with Gnosticism on the other. floors. Ostwalt. the Temple of Zion evokes both the Oracle of Delphi (three legged stool. the film understands salvation to be individual (rather than collective and occurring all at once). and most importantly to entail leaving behind the material Earth (that is. We are grateful to Brock Bakke for the initial equation of agents with archons. perfectly peaceful and equipoised. 28. 30. where she wonders if the tradition that Thomas. the Oracle .Wake Up! as anything. Note that as Morpheus and Neo enter the elevator of the apartment building of the Oracle. (Gospel of Truth. http://whatisthematrix..that is a tough question! Faith in one's self. how's that for an answer?" This reply hardly settles the issue (Wachowski chat). is wholly freed. See the online chat with the special effects creators in the "Matrix Virtual Theater" from March 23.warnerbros. Anderson. 26. p. Compare the Gnostic idea of stillness with these Buddhist sayings from the Dhammapada: "The bhikku [monk]. attains the State of Calm. as though asleep at the time when he was ignorant. xxi. "Armageddon" in JRF Vol. At a point in the film when Morpheus says of Neo.. 1974) p." Agent Smith calls him "Mr. Nag Hammadi Library. Note too the metonymic use of color to convey this dualism: black and white clothing." Nag Hammadi Library. In its description in the original screenplay. 25. etc. as if he had awakened.. who abides in loving-kindness. 21. calm the word and deed of him who. 29-30) 20. In Gnosticism "Mind" or the Greek "nous" is a deity. 2000. no. 29. 24. 27. This is perhaps most evident in the subway fight between Neo and Agent Smith. not resulting in a kingdom of God made manifest on the Earth). This is the way each one has acted. What the Buddha Taught (New York: Grove Weidenfeld.128. And this is the way he has [come to knowledge]. 23. empty throne which is the mercy seat or throne of the invisible God)." and while fighting he replies. who is delighted in the Teaching of the Buddha. 1. This twin tradition was especially popular in Syrian Christianity. pp. 4. nor do they esteem its works as solid things either. See also Pagels. Interestingly. "Hmmmm. images of "seeing" symbolize prophecy and knowledge: a blind man (evoking blind prophets such as Tiresias) sits in the lobby beneath some graffiti depicting a pair of eyes. Jesus' twin.a sibyl / seer . Perfect Mind. " Quoted in Walpola Sri Rahula. 136. The parallel with apocalypticism does not work quite as well as one with Gnosticism because like Gnosticism.. to be attained through knowledge. but they leave them behind like a dream in the night. "My name is Neo. See Nag Hammadi Library. the happiness of stilling the conditioned things" and "Calm is the thought." The Wachowskis confirm this interpretation when they state "Neo is Thomas Anderson's potential self" (Wachowski chat). "What is the role or {sic} faith in the movie? Faith in oneself first and foremost – or in something else?" They answered. priestesses) and the Jerusalem Temple (polished marble.wears glasses to look at Neo's palm.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_wakeup. such as in the text "Thunder. "He is just beginning to believe. 22.html (22 of 25) [4/8/2003 16:58:33] . furniture. A viewer asked the Wachowski brothers. pp. 295-303. rightly knowing. 256-59.

and to cover himself decently. This dialogue also points to the "reality" (or the "Matrix") which we ourselves inhabit. Larry Wachowski adds that they became fascinated "by the idea that math and theology are almost the same. 36. He doesn't accept anything until he gets to his own end point. p. The entire process depends upon human ignorance. . Ibid. In the Time interview with Richard Corliss (see note 8). of course. the world of which both the actor Joe Pantoliano and we are now a part may be seen as the "Matrix" into which he has been successfully re-inserted. For further reading on female divinities in Gnosticism. Stupa: a hemispherical or cylindrical mound or tower serving as a Buddhist shrine. he is an actor. so that almost all who are born into the Matrix are doomed to be born. explains to Neo the nature of ultimate reality: "There is no spoon. And when you take all of them to the infinity point. 40. . all these people trying to tell him what the truth is. . 64-65. Take. 37. a bhikku. 33. However. In Edward Conze. which portrays God as Father.only to keep off cold. he makes use of food – neither for http://whatisthematrix. and in the world of Joe Pantoliano. you wind up at the same place: these unanswerable mysteries really become about personal perception. the trio is quite interesting in the context of Gnosticism. 54. considering wisely. (Ed." One cannot help wondering if this dictum only holds within the Matrix or if there is in fact "no spoon" even in the real world beyond it." The argument. . 1954). That has fascinated us for a long time" (Wachowski chat). 34. . Samyutta-nikaya II. pp. to keep off heat . both of whom are named for gods. .html (23 of 25) [4/8/2003 16:58:33] . Neo's journey is affected by all these rules. makes use of his robes -. .warnerbros. Specifically. . Of course."(Wachowski Chat) Even in the "real world" beyond the Matrix. e." The screenplay describes the waiting room as "at once like a Buddhist temple and a kindergarten class. and where they meet.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_wakeup." One of the children. this quote from the Sabbasava-sutta: "A bhikku [monk]. 35. Samyutta-nikaya IV. the most transparent reference to Buddhist ideas occurs in the waiting room at the Oracle’s apartment. Considering wisely. with his nose restrained . Buddhist Texts Through the Ages (New York: Philosophical Library. Apocryphon of John 2:9-14. . see Pagels. . with his mind restrained . . he lives with his ears restrained ." The film’s presentation of the Matrix as a corporate network of human conceptions (or samsara) which are translated into software codes that reinforce one another illustrates this close relationship. death. this trio does not quite make sense in terms of traditional Christianity." Tongue in Buddhist cheek. Note: This clip can be viewed here.Wake Up! 31. . and to re-enter the cycle again. . the dead people are liquefied and fed to the living people in the pods. with his body . 48-69. a trinity in which the Holy Spirit is identified as female. "There's something uniquely interesting about Buddhism and mathematics. and "recycling. where Neo is introduced to the "Potentials. his own rebirth. is seductively circular. 91. When asked about the film’s depiction of the liquefaction of humans." 38. Therefore. particularly about quantum physics. lives with his eyes restrained . considering wisely. Considering wisely. clad in the garb of a Buddhist monk. the brothers explain this re-embodiment: "Always recycle! It's a statement on recycling. As a godhead. these humans are Neo (the Gnostic Redeemer / Messiah) and Morpheus and Trinity. 32.g. with his tongue . for example.)) 39. (Hit your back button to return to this essay. and thus the film itself may be seen as a part of the software program of our own "Matrix. to die. the human plight is depicted as a relative and inter-dependent cycle of birth. In our world. They begin with a supposition you can derive a whole host of laws or rules from. Mother and Son. The brothers explain. ed. the Wachowskis reply that this black ooze is "what they feed the people in the pods.

The Buddha’s compassion serves as their primary model for Mahayana Buddhists. Because. 135. and through the processes enacted in meditation. . arhat ("Worthy One") is a title applied to those who achieve enlightenment. 46. to remake the Matrix as he saw fit. New York: Philosophical Library. Yet supernatural powers are incidental to the primary goal. come to the realization that "all things and thought are but Mind-only. James Ford has argued that the film embodies in particular the Yogacara school of Buddhism.html (24 of 25) [4/8/2003 16:58:33] . 2. Yet a problem arises when one realizes that for the Yogacara school." precipitating his resuscitation. which is explained in the very first sermon spoken by the Buddha: "The Noble Truth of the cessation of suffering is this: It is the complete cessation of that very thirst. 42. renouncing it. according to Theravada beliefs. . Quoted in Rahula. 133. detaching oneself from it"(Dhammacakkappavattana-sutta. A bodhisattva is one who postpones final entry into nirvana and willingly re-enters or remains in samsara in order to guide others along the path to enlightenment. The screenplay states directly: "It is a miracle. as in Yogacara. Instead of pointing to that which is absolutely different than the world as nirvana. 49. giving it up. Buddhism." This fourth "life" can be viewed as the one to which the Oracle refers in her predictions that Neo was "waiting for something" and that he might be ready in his "next life. an arhat is of limited aid in helping those not yet enlightened and so would not necessarily choose to re-enter samsara to aid others still enmeshed within it. but only to support and sustain this body . which is really its source and substance" (Edward Conze. so that in The Matrix. since they point out that he too remained in samsara in order to help others achieve enlightenment through his teachings and example. Yogacarins point to the world itself. According to Theravada teachings. the Mind is the ultimate reality. 48. 167. emancipating oneself from it. The Matrix exists only in the minds of the human beings which inhabit it.warnerbros. Quoted in Rahula. The screenplay describes Neo as "floating in a womb-red amnion" in the power plant. Quoted in Rahula. and therefore samsara and nirvana become identified. maybe. 44." (Quoted in Rahula 103). 47. 1959). since Neo rises from the dead and defeats the Agents. 93.) http://whatisthematrix. since they recognize the world as illusory and so can manipulate it at will. nor is it helpful in supporting the idea that beyond the Matrix and beyond the Nebuchadnezzar there is an ultimate reality not yet realized by humans (see note 4). By contrast. Rahula. 45. These four "lives" suggest that Neo is nothing other than "the One" foretold by the oracle. p.Wake Up! pleasure nor for excess . the film insists on a distinction between samsara (the Matrix) and nirvana (that which lies beyond it). Because The Matrix maintains a duality between the Matrix and the realm beyond it. the reincarnation of the first "enlightened one. p. 43. . Yogacara is of limited help in making sense of the Buddhist elements in the film. 168). The basis of all our illusions consists in that we regard the objectifications of our own mind as a world independent of that mind." Buddhist teaching allows that those who have been enlightened are endowed with magical powers. enlightenment can only be achieved through individual effort. 41." This certainly appears to be the case. . who "had the ability to change whatever he wanted. In the screenplay.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_wakeup. Trinity does not kiss him but instead "pounds on his chest." or Buddha. "The external world is really Mind itself" (p.

com/rl_cmp/new_phil_wakeup. Sacred Books of the East. E. die also within the power plant) while serving as involuntary "vessels" for the Agents strongly argues for The Matrix’s direct association of violence with the knowledge required for salvation. 35. "Religion and Violence in Popular Film. When asked whether this irony was intentional. A viewer asked the pertinent question of the Wachowskis: "Do you believe that our world is in some way similar to The Matrix. 56.html (25 of 25) [4/8/2003 16:58:33] . and one represents Neo (Wachowski chat). Whereas they could have chosen to present the "deaths" of the Agents as of the same illusory quality as other elements within the software program. p. trans. See the article by Bryan P. http://whatisthematrix. The Wachowskis note that one reflection represents Thomas Anderson. no. 52. Cowell. Stone. 1.warnerbros. one should neither slay nor cause to slay" (Verse 129) (Dhammapada. 55.e. The fact that the writers so purposefully insist that actual human beings die (i." JRF Vol. B. 51. 1894). the Wachowskis reply abruptly but enthusiastically "Yes!" (Wachowski chat). with the reassuring belief that any "deaths" which occur there are simply computer blips. instead. and Neo is reflected differently in each lens of Morpheus's glasses. John Ross Carter and Mahinda Palihawadana. 54. vol. Buddhacarita 1:65. 3. for example. New York: Oxford University Press.. indeed. that there is a larger world outside of this existence?" They replied: "That is a larger question than you actually might think. trans. 49 (Oxford: Oxford University Press. the "violence" which takes place in the Hotel could still be portrayed. they choose to depict actual humans really dying through the inhabitation of their "bodies" by the Agents. Which is. This addition is completely unnecessary to the overall plot line. Buddhist Mahayana Texts. a reconciling between a natural world and another world that is perceived by our intellect" (Wachowski chat). Having made oneself the example. 53.Wake Up! 50. We think the most important sort of fiction attempts to answer some of the big questions. 1987). This is especially true in the "red pill / blue pill" scene where Neo first meets Morpheus. in the Dhammapada: "Of death are all afraid. One of the things that we had talked about when we first had the idea of The Matrix was an idea that I believe philosophy and religion and mathematics all try to answer. See. The idea that violence as salvific is made explicit by the writers.

most people inside the Matrix are ignorant of the fact that they're in this bad situation.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? There's a natural.warnerbros. They falsely believe they're in the good situation. It encourages the viewer to sympathize with Neo's choice to take the red pill. When we look more closely. Despite that. It may be difficult to face up to the grim realities outside the Matrix. And at the end of the movie. simple thought starts to get very complicated and unclear. The character Cypher who chooses to reinsert himself into the Matrix is not portrayed very sympathetically. simple thought. there's an important respect in which people inside the Matrix are worse off than people outside it. but the movie does present this as a choice worth making. simple thought that the movie The Matrix encourages.html (1 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . this natural. they are still worse off than people who really are in the good situation. Of course. This is that there's something bad about being inside the Matrix. Many questions arise. Neo seems to be http://whatisthematrix. and have no clue that their present lives are rife with illusion? The movie does seem to suggest that there's something bad about life in the Matrix even for these ordinary Joes. First question: Who is the Matrix supposed to be bad for? Is life inside the Matrix only bad for people like Trinity and Neo who have experienced life outside? Or is it also bad for all the ordinary Joes who've never been outside.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor. I said this is a natural. though. That is.

they did not have the option of going back." Nozick thinks that there are things we value in life that we'd be losing out on if we plugged into an experience machine. He thinks there are things we lose out on even if the operators' intentions are benevolent and we http://whatisthematrix.warnerbros. would you use that power? We can assume that these people's minds are "ready.html (2 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . the machines are using the Matrix to keep us docile so that they can use us as a source of energy. we're their cattle. and then chose to plug ourselves back in because life inside was more fun? Would these differences make a difference to whether you regard life inside the Matrix as bad? Or to how bad you regard it? In his third essay.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? embarking on a crusade to free more people from the Matrix. took over the Matrix machinery ourselves.) Or what if we defeated the machines. Christopher Grau discusses Robert Nozick's "experience machine. Do you think they'd be better off outside? Would you free them? Do you think they'd thank you? Or do you side with Cypher? Do you think that life inside the Matrix isn't all that bad—especially if your enjoyment of it isn't spoiled by the knowledge that it's all a machine-managed construct? Second question: Does it matter who's running the Matrix. But what if we weren't at war with the machines? What if the machines' purposes were purely benevolent and philanthropic? What if they created the Matrix because they thought that our lives would be more pleasant in that virtual world than in the harsher real world? (Iakovos Vasiliou discusses a scenario like this in his essay. they can survive being extracted from the Matrix without going insane.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor. What do you think? If you had the power to free people from the Matrix." that is. In effect. and why? In the movie. But let's suppose that once you freed them.

warnerbros... it will help to do some conceptual ground-clearing.. true for you—that you are in the good situation? This line of thought is never fully endorsed in the movie..I choose the Matrix.. what you can taste and see.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? plug in of our own free choice. some people have the thought: If in every respect it seems to you that you're in the good situation. what you can smell. Do you think that's right? Would you say the same thing about the Matrix? Our answers to these questions will be useful guides as we try to determine what it is about the movie's version of the Matrix that makes us squeamish. then "real" is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain. Consider the conversation Neo and Morpheus have in the Construct: Neo: This isn't real. II In order to figure out what's so bad about being in the Matrix. Trinity: The Matrix isn't real.If I had to choose between that and the Matrix. but the characters do sometimes flirt with it. doesn't that make it true—at least.. Consider Cypher's final conversation with Trinity: Cypher: .com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor.. When they think about scenarios like the Matrix. Morpheus: What is "real"? How do you define "real"? If you're talking about what you can feel. http://whatisthematrix.html (3 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] ..

even if no one ever figured out that the Matrix was just a "dream world. Are the claims that Morpheus and Cypher are making here right? Is the world that Trinity and Cypher experience and seem to interact with when they're inside the Matrix just as real (or more real?) than the world outside? The standard view is "no.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? Cypher: I disagree. "I have these memories from my life. the Matrix is "a dream world. he never has eaten steak. Trinity. As Morpheus goes on to say. dodging bullets. It just seems to him that he has." the Matrix world is in some important sense less real. http://whatisthematrix. or has evidence for believing.html (4 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . and so on. jumping between buildings." In fact." Philosophers would express this standard view by saying that facts like: • whether you've ever eaten steak • whether you've ever jumped between buildings • whether your eyes have ever been open and so on are all objective facts.warnerbros. The mere fact that it seems to you that you're jumping between buildings doesn't make it true that there really are any buildings there. None of them happened.." The characters are just experiencing a "neural interactive simulation" of eating steak. and never will. As Neo says when he's on the way to visit the Oracle.. And presumably that's how things would be even if no one ever discovered that it was so. I think the Matrix can be more real than this world. facts that are true (or false) independently of what anybody believes or knows about them.

and she knows this. so in this sense it will be "true for you" that you're eating steak. When I'm in the Matrix it really is true for me that I'm eating steak and so on. but it is true for me. what's true for me might be different than what's true for you. For instance. Some of the time." They say: Well. people use expressions like "true for me" in a way that doesn't conflict with the view that the facts in question are objective. all that some people mean by saying that something is "true for them" is that they believe it to be true. She accepts that you and I may disagree about whether you've ever eaten steak. She's not even claiming to know who's right. All she's claiming is that there is a fact of the matter about whether you've eaten steak—regardless of whether you or she or anybody else knows what that fact is. If it happens to be true that you've eaten steak. or has any beliefs about it." When a philosopher says that it's an objective fact whether or not you've ever eaten steak. And this fact is an objective one.html (5 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] .What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? Some people get uneasy with this talk about "objective facts. Usually when two people disagree about some matter. You may have better evidence than she. When you're in the Matrix you do believe that you're eating steak. period. are further separate questions. then it's true. and she knows this too. And what you believe to be true will often be different from what I believe to be true.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor. It's not "true for you" but "false for me. they agree that the fact http://whatisthematrix. That might not be true for you. She may be ignorant or mistaken about your past dietary habits.warnerbros." What you and I believe. she's not disputing any of this. so in this sense something could be "true for you" but "false for me. and who's got better evidence for their belief. Let's try to figure out what this means.

sometimes we speak incompletely. If you say "This kitchen gadget is useful. not one truth for you and a different truth for me. It is philosophically controversial whether ethical and artistic truths are objective.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? they're disputing is an objective one. It doesn't make them fit people with unusual body shapes better. Really there are several facts here: •The gadget is useful for cutting eggs. suppose you're cutting eggs for a salad and I'm cutting the tomatoes. And so on. http://whatisthematrix. but it's not true for me. this is less clear. But for our present discussion. In cases like this." There's no conflict here with the view that facts about usefulness are objective. when we really mean that it makes them fit certain people better. For matters of this sort. Now. if one way of completing the claim is natural when we're talking about you. when we really mean that it's useful for certain purposes. like ethical and artistic matters. They agree that one of them is right and the other wrong. and so on." I might respond "That may be true for you. For some matters. and whether the same truths hold for everyone. then we might be tempted to talk of the claim's being "true for you" but "false for me. and another way when we're talking about me. we'd expect there to be only one single common truth. They just disagree about who. we can set those controversies aside.html (6 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . We're each using the same kitchen gadget. For example.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor. we'll say that a kitchen gadget is useful." For instance. We'll say that the cut of certain suits makes them fit better. and just concentrate on more prosaic and mundane matters. It may be useful for cutting hard-boiled eggs but useless for cutting tomatoes or cheese. •The gadget is not very useful for cutting tomatoes. you with good results and me with frustrating results. whether your eyes have ever been open.warnerbros. like whether you've ever eaten steak.

"I've eaten steak hundreds of times.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor. When those characters think to themselves. For example. It's impossible for all the evidence to point one way. even if we both somehow convince ourselves that it does fit. I can be mistaken about how useful the gadget is.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? •The gadget is more useful for you than it is for me (because you're cutting eggs and I'm cutting tomatoes. They're not just making a claim about what those characters think is true. then they're true. that we've considered so far don't conflict with the view that the facts we're dealing with are objective. if any of them are true. That is.) And so on. a verificationist about height would say that how tall you are depends on what evidence there is about how tall you are.warnerbros. (Perhaps I'm not using it properly. It's perfectly possible to regard all these facts as objective." And neither will my thinking that the gadget is useless for cutting tomatoes make it so. but "false for me. So the ways of talking about things being "true for me" etc. One way to flesh this idea out is with a philosophical theory called verificationism. period.) If you're a verificationist about certain kinds of fact." what they're thinking really is supposed to be true.) Similarly. People who dislike objective facts want to say something stronger. (Sometimes this theory is called anti-realism. They want to say it really is true for the characters inside the Matrix that they've eaten steak.html (7 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . At least for them. if your new Armani suit doesn't fit you very well. It won't be "true for you" that the gadget is more useful for you than it is for me. then it doesn't fit you. For Neo and Trinity and others it may not be true. and so has my friend Neo. then you reject the idea that those facts are objective. but the facts about your http://whatisthematrix.

so long as it appears real.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor. they don't usually tend to hold strange conceptions of reality.") When we're discussing the Matrix and examples like it in my undergraduate classes. They'll say things like this: If all my evidence says that there is a tall mountain there. I don't find 30% of them believing in astrology or bodysnatching aliens. Some philosophers do defend the view. Most of us think that Mt. but "false for" other people.warnerbros. for instance. If the "real facts" are so well-concealed. for me. The only height you can have is a height that it's in principle discoverable or verifiable that you have. I'm always surprised to hear students voicing approval for this view. The facts have to be constrained by the evidence.html (8 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . They sometimes have false beliefs. Sure. people sometimes make mistakes about their height. The mountain really is there. then they cease being facts at all.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? height to be otherwise. But I'd be really surprised if 30% of my university students really did think this is the way the world is. As a group. to say that there's a tall mountain there. where the "real facts" are so well-concealed that no one will be able to ferret them out. and students start talking about things being "true for" them. then in my personal picture of the world there is a tall mountain there. the verificationist will say. It's a pretty strange conception of reality. for me. Everest had this http://whatisthematrix. Mount Everest is 8. they're usually trying to sign onto some kind of verificationism. (Hence the name "verificationism. and fits my conception of a tall mountain. It doesn't make sense to talk about a situation where everybody is permanently and irremediably mistaken about your height.850 meters tall. But those mistakes have to be in principle discoverable and correctable. says the verificationist. That's all it can mean.

850 m tall. there wouldn't have been anybody for whom it was true that Mt. nobody actually has evidence that Mt. even if no observers had existed. even in situations where no thinking subjects had ever existed. This is what makes verificationism such a strange view.850 m tall mountain. Everest would still cast those shadows. Everest existed. they could have gathered and used that evidence. A different version of the view would focus instead on what I myself am able to verify. it's not clear that the verificationist is entitled to say that Mt. But the evidence is still available. Everest is 8. let's instead think about examples where the relevant evidence isn't even available. in the situation we're envisaging. then there wouldn't have been anybody who could have had evidence that Mt. This view might say http://whatisthematrix. If there had never been any thinking subjects.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? height well before there were any human beings. Everest is 8850 m tall. But rather than pursuing these tricky details. Perhaps the verificationist will respond: Granted. For instance. Everest would still have been 8.850 m tall. Everest is still 8. But it's not clear that a verificationist is entitled to say things like that.warnerbros. (Mt. That is.850 m tall. there has to be evidence that somebody somewhere could acquire that demonstrates that it is 8. Maybe that's enough to make it true that Mt.850 m tall. it has to be publicly verifiable that the mountain exists and is 8. The usual varieties of verificationism say that for there to be a 8.) And if people had existed. It looks like the verificationist has to deny that Mt. Things get tricky here. and so on. then. So according to the verificationist. and that it would still have this height even if no human beings or other thinking subjects had ever existed. Everest will cast shadows of certain lengths at certain times of the day.850 m tall in the situation we're envisaging.html (9 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] .com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor.

We can call this second version of the view "personal verificationism.. then it's not really a fact.850 m tall. It'd be "true for you" that it's 8. I'm just going to talk about the personal version of the view." since it says that what's true—well. And so on. usually find the personal version more natural and attractive.html (10 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . like the students in my undergraduate classes.warnerbros. It doesn't have to be in your power to make the evidence appear.850 m tall." Suppose there's a character in The Matrix that it's impossible for Morpheus to "waken.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor. by chance." On this more liberal conception. When professional philosophers discuss verificationism. at least.g. What does it mean to say that certain evidence is "available" or "unavailable"? One way of drawing this line would make it turn on whether you can obtain the evidence through your own active efforts: e.850 m tall only if you could verify that it's 8. but that's a separate issue. evidence will count as "available" even if it could just happen to fall into your lap. And the two versions do share many of the same features—and problems. true for me—always depends on what I myself would be able to verify.850 m tall only if I could verify that it's 8." It may be a fact for other people. If there's some fact that will forever be concealed from me.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? that it's "true for me" that the mountain is 8. Let's think about someone for whom evidence is unavailable even on this more liberal conception of "available. I think that people who aren't professional philosophers." Maybe this character believes in the http://whatisthematrix. are there tests you can run that would give you the evidence you need? Or you might have a more liberal conception of what it is for evidence to be "available. However. not a fact "for me. they usually have the public version in mind.

Jeremy wouldn't believe him. What's more.warnerbros. What's true for Jeremy is that he really does work on the 40th floor of an office building. According to the standard view. that the sun streams into his office most mornings. that he often eats steak for dinner. Jeremy has never seen the sun. He believes that he goes to work everyday on the 40th floor of an office building. But today only a little bit of evidence remains that they were there. and if Morpheus tried to show Jeremy the truth. According to the verificationist. That's what the standard view says. Let's call this character Jeremy. though. http://whatisthematrix. In fact. but it is true for Jeremy. he's incapable of knowing them. these people will either have been at a party in New York. Jeremy has many false beliefs about his surroundings. and would just go insane and die if the "dream" ever started to unravel. he's never eaten steak. and so on. Jeremy would go insane and die.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor. there are no office buildings anymore. and he's spent his entire life in a small pod. If Morpheus told Jeremy the truth. And this doesn't just mean that Jeremy thinks he works on the 40th floor etc. But these are facts that Jeremy will never know. So there are many truths about Jeremy's life that Jeremy will never be able to know. What do you think? Does that sound plausible to you? Let's think about the comings and goings of people in the past. or they won't have been there. then that thing can't really be a "truth" about Jeremy's life. on a given evening in the past. According to the standard view.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? "dream world" too strongly. All of these beliefs are false. It means it really is a fact—a fact for Jeremy—that he works on the 40th floor of an office building. Suppose they were there. At least. it won't be a truth for Jeremy. if it's impossible for Jeremy to know something. and so on. It may not be true for Morpheus that Jeremy works on the 40th floor of an office building.html (11 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] .

then it was out of sight again. that the past has real existence?." "'Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past. Dust. Winston." "Then where does the past exist... it was vanishing in a flash of flame. There was a memory hole in the opposite wall. Is there somewhere or other a place. if at all?" "In records. nodding his head with slow approval.'" said O'Brien. "Ashes. "It exists!" he cried. It does not exist. where the past is still happening?" "No. And—?" http://whatisthematrix. "Is it your opinion. Aaronson.. It is written down. a world of solid objects. "Not even identifiable ashes." he said. and Rutherford at the party function in New York. You remember it. For only an instant it was before his eyes.. O'Brien turned away from the wall.. the frail slip of paper was whirling away on the current of warm air. Would you then have it in your power to change the past? That is what the character O'Brien in George Orwell's novel 1984 thinks: An oblong slip of newspaper had appeared between O'Brien's fingers. It never existed. if you please." said O'Brien. Unseen. I remember it. For perhaps five seconds it was within the angle of Winston's vision." he said. "Repeat it." "But it did exist! It does exist! It exists in memory. "There is a Party slogan dealing with the control of the past." "In records. "No.warnerbros. O'Brien lifted the grating. and manufacture evidence that they were elsewhere.". It was another copy of the photograph of Jones. "'Who controls the present controls the past..html (12 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] .com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor. O'Brien was looking down at him speculatively.'" repeated Winston obediently. More than ever he had the air of a teacher taking pains with a wayward but promising child.. which he had chanced upon eleven years ago and promptly destroyed.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? Suppose you have it in your power to destroy that evidence. He stepped across the room..

Maybe it's not important.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor. Once we've removed every shred of evidence. So perhaps he can't change what's true for him about the past. In human memories. and we control all memories. The verificationist has to deny this. then we really will have changed the past for those people. then.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? "In the mind. do we not?" Now. Then we control the past. Their past really will have happened the way it seems to them. What do you think? Does that sound plausible? Winston eventually comes to accept this view of reality. even if there's no evidence remaining." Does that sound convincing? Or does it too sound like a lie? What about facts for which there's simply no evidence either way? Morpheus says they don't know who struck first in the war between humans and machines.warnerbros. for all these people in their pods we're making it true that it never happened.html (13 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . Philosophical discussions of http://whatisthematrix. Very well. Presumably there is a fact about this." "In memory. At least. They won't be deceived. But to the reader it's supposed to sound like a lie. We. presumably O'Brien knows he's tampered with the evidence. But presumably one of us did strike first. control all records. I hope all of this will make verificationism sound somewhat implausible to you. and made it impossible for them to verify that there was a war between humans and machines. why do you keep harping about this war between humans and machines? It never happened. "Hey. Maybe all the evidence is lost. What if the machines in The Matrix said to Neo and Morpheus. the Party. They aren't meant to be conclusive considerations. And maybe the machines don't know either. it does seem like he'd be able to change the past for other people. But on the verificationist view.

What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? verificationism get very complicated. If you're still inclined towards verificationism. So now we'll say it is an objective fact whether you work on the 40th floor of an office building. Why is it important to really be in the situation we're calling "good"? Why isn't it good enough for us that we seem to be in the "good" situation? Isn't the experience or illusion of being in the good situation already pretty good? Why should it make our lives any better to really be there? (Especially if. the way the real "good" situation is is much less pleasant than the way http://whatisthematrix. and see whether doing so helps us get any closer to determining what it is about the Matrix that makes it seem bad. We'll grant that it can seem to you in every respect that you're in "the good" situation (outside the Matrix). III I propose we set verificationism aside at this point. If you're going to hold the view in good intellectual conscience. as in the movie. I hope you'll at least grant that the view does go against our common-sense conception of reality. Whether verificationism itself is something we can verify. without it's thereby being true that you're in that situation.warnerbros. OK. there are a lot of difficulties and objections that need to be overcome. how to draw the line between evidence that's available and evidence that's not.html (14 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . and that as a result it requires careful supporting argument.g.. We can't go into these issues.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor. How to explain when evidence enables us to verify a hypothesis and when it doesn't. But this doesn't yet tell us why being inside the Matrix should be bad. The verificationist has to overcome many technical difficulties: e.

Would it really make Cypher's life any better if he were really eating steak? Is it really eating steak that we value. But it's not obvious yet that any of them are truths he cares about.warnerbros. For some matters.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor. and not merely having the illusion or experience of doing them.html (15 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . really care about are what kinds of experiences we're going to have. I know that this steak doesn't exist. now and in the future.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? things seem to be in the so-called "bad" situation.) As Cypher says: You know. people who are stuck in the Matrix can still do pretty well by that score. Perhaps the only things that Jeremy." He thinks there are things we value in life over and above what experiences we have. It would be implausible to claim this is always so. the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. But I think we feel differently about other matters. and most of us.. How much is he missing out on. I'm http://whatisthematrix. Ignorance is bliss. After nine years. I know that when I put it in my mouth. just because he never really gets to eat a steak? We're granting that there are truths about Jeremy's life that he'll never be able to know. As we saw before. Nozick thinks that most of us wouldn't choose to spend the rest of our lives plugged into an "experience machine. I think we genuinely do care about more than just what experiences we end up having. or just the experience of eating steak? Wouldn't most people be satisfied with the experience—especially if it's indistinguishable from the real activity? Recall our friend Jeremy who spends his whole life inside the Matrix. With regard to eating steak. the experience probably is all that we really value. you know what I realize?. I agree with Nozick. For instance. we value doing certain things. As Cypher recognizes..

Hence. But if you look closer. Nozick's experience machine gives us everything we want. Notice that what we're talking about here is the question: What do we actually value? Not the question: What should we value? Some readers may be willing to concede that we should care about more than our own experiences. since the only aim we have in life is just to have pleasant experiences. Or we do them because when people we care about are happy. That picture goes like this. we buy presents for our children. But I http://whatisthematrix.html (16 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . our own experiences are all we really do care about—at least most of us. Sometimes it may seem that we're doing things for other people's sake. we give money to charity. We only do such things because it makes us feel good and noble to do them. as a matter of fact. All that any of us are really after in life is getting more pleasant experiences for himself. Whenever we do something on purpose. Most of us do in fact care about more than just what experiences we end up having. and it would be foolish not to plug into it. you'll see that even in cases like these. everyone always acts for selfish motives. We're always pursuing our own ends. I grant that some people may be as selfish as this picture says. (It's so selfish!) But it may appear that. we make sacrifices to please our spouses. and trying to satisfy our own desires. and avoiding painful ones. and we like feeling noble. it's our own purpose that we're trying to achieve. For instance. and ultimately what we're after is that happiness for ourselves. too. it says. that makes us happy too. There's a widely-held picture of human motivation that makes it difficult to see this. I'm going to argue that this isn't so.warnerbros.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? going to try to persuade you that this is so. we're still always acting for selfish motives. Ultimately. Now.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor.

com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor. It says more than that. The picture rests on two confusions. we feel good. And this good feeling is really what I'll have been trying to obtain all along. rather than the second. then when I achieve that aim." To call a motive or aim "selfish" isn't just to say that it's a motive or aim that I have. Why should making someone else better off give me a good feeling? And how do I know that it will have that effect? Consider two stories. If my motive is to make you better off. In story A. and your itch goes away. You feel this inexplicable and unpleasant itch. and trying to satisfy our own desires" with "acting for a selfish motive. you go to visit the Oracle. you'll say. I'll feel good. If my motive is to make me better off.html (17 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . But let's think about this a bit harder. It's easy to make the mistake of thinking that what we really wanted was that good feeling. The first confusion is to equate "pursuing our own ends. From the mere fact that I'm pursuing one of my motives. It's true that often when we get what we want (though sadly not always). and once we clear those confusions up. So you do so. It says something about the kind of motive it is. This is the second confusion.warnerbros. it doesn't follow that my motive is of the first sort. I think there's no longer reason to believe that the only thing that any of us ever aims for in life is to have pleasant experiences. Ah. http://whatisthematrix. but if my aim is to make you better off. then my motive is a selfish one. then my motive is not selfish. Someone suggests as a hypothesis that the itch would go away if you gave the girl a spoon too. and in her waiting room you see a boy bending spoons and a girl levitating blocks.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? doubt that many people are.

rather. we're in a situation like the one in story B. and so on. making sacrifices for one's spouse. when we do things to make other people better off. Most often. Some people do aim for that. Our pleasure isn't some unexplained effect of our actions. In story A. You would like her to have a spoon too. no guesswork or experience seemed to be necessary.warnerbros. You could predict that because you had an aim other than making yourself feel better. and you feel pleased with the result. Our pleasure comes about because we got what we were primarily trying to achieve. you walk into the same room. your aim was to make yourself feel better. In story B. Your aim was to give a spoon to the girl. Your feeling of pleasure was a consequence or side-effect of achieving that aim. Don't mistake what you're aiming at with what happens as a result of your getting what you're aiming at. and you don't like the fact that the girl has no spoon.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? In story B. some of the time.html (18 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . I think there's no argument left that the only thing anyone ever aims for in life is to have pleasant experiences.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor. The pleasure is not what you were primarily aiming at. on the other hand. it came about because you achieved what you were primarily aiming at. Once we're straight about this. are not done for the pleasure they bring http://whatisthematrix. Here you were in a position to straightforwardly predict what would bring you pleasure. It took experience and guesswork to figure out what would make you feel better in that way. But many cases of giving to charity. you knew what that aim was. and what we're primarily trying to achieve. and giving the spoon to the girl was just a means to that end. and usually you feel pleased when you get what you want. So you take a spoon and give it to the girl. and this makes it understandable why it should come about when it does.

nobody giggles or snickers or anything like that. it will seem that the bank made an error and now you have $10 more in your account than you http://whatisthematrix. the way we made fun of Trinity. He's right about me. too. I can make people forget things. I offer you a choice. When she shows up. It's hilarious. Option 1 is I deposit $10 in your bank account. If you choose this option.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? to oneself. and pleasure is just a pleasant side-effect that sometimes comes along with getting the other things one is after. We can easily find out. But of course we only do this behind Trinity's back. I think Nozick is right. Now that you know all of that. being teased.html (19 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . You're completely confident that we'll be able to keep our ridicule a secret from Trinity. then I will immediately use my hypnotic powers to make you forget about making the choice. that there are things that we value that we'd miss out on if we plugged into the Matrix. Suppose I demonstrate to you that your friends and I are very good at keeping secrets. Nozick said that most of us do value more than our own experiences. one day when Trinity isn't around. and once forgotten they never remember them. and he's probably right about you. I've devised a little thought-experiment as a test. She'll never know about it. but then your friends and I will make fun of you behind your back. We do ridiculous impersonations of her. From your point of view. You're convinced that I have this power. and all that.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor. For instance. There's something else that one is after. Suppose I also demonstrate to you that I am a powerful hypnotist. And so on. we all make lots of fun of her. We read her journal out loud and laugh really hard.warnerbros.

your lover is cheating on you. because I'll make you forget the whole arrangement as soon as you make your choice. and really having an untortured mother. Option 1 gives you no experiences of being teased. If the teasing doesn't seem so bad. this option has no downside. but you never know about it.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? had before. Option 2 is we keep things as they are. plus you get a little extra money. They think that the teasing would be a bad thing.html (20 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . even though they'd never know it was going on. Say that in Option 1. So which would you choose? When I offer my students this choice. then change the example. You won't even have to suffer from the expectation of being secretly teased. I find that at least 95% of them choose Option 2. I pay you nothing. It gives you no evidence that your lover is cheating on you. or that your mother is being tortured. You value really not being teased. http://whatisthematrix. Or say that we're torturing your mother. So in terms of what experiences you will have. then that's support for Nozick's claim. and your friends are no more or less likely to make fun of you behind your back than they were before. In every version. really having a faithful lover. Which option would you choose? If you find Option 2 more attractive. But you don't just want to have experiences of things going well for yourself and your mother.warnerbros. The experience machine wouldn't give you everything you value. but you never know about it. your experiences are smooth and untroubled.

I've only been arguing that we'd miss out on some things we'd value if we plugged in. I haven't been able to say yet how important. I haven't said that it would never be reasonable to plug in. All I'm saying is that plugging in won't give us everything we want. it will depend on whether the Matrix or the experience machine involve any hidden costs. the experience of eating steak may be enough.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor. In some cases. we do have to compare what we'd get by plugging into the experience machine to what we'd get if we don't plug in. the good of being plugged in could outweigh the bad. I'm just saying they don't give us everything. we have to confront one last complication. It's hard to know what the right balance point is.warnerbros. IV Before we can determine what are the major costs of living inside the Matrix. What do these http://whatisthematrix.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? Now. We said they probably don't care about whether they've ever really eaten steak. In part. If the real world is miserable and nasty enough. Perhaps for Cypher. Let's pause over this for a moment. the real world is too nasty. And this is something we haven't yet settled. So there is some bad to plugging in. There may also be some good to plugging in. Our experiences aren't all that we value.html (21 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . We said that for most people inside the Matrix. How bad does the real world have to be. though. and plug back into the blissful experience machine? This is a hard question. Some aspects of how the world really is are important to us. Dreams and immersive roleplaying do give us some of the things we value in life. it may make sense to plug in. before it makes sense to make Cypher's choice.

I myself think that for some of Jeremy's concepts. he's managed to do what he calls "eating steak. Recall what Cypher says: You know. and on various occasions he's interacted in certain ways with other parts of the Matrix program. but that isn't really your friend's name. He's done that many times. at least not the name his parents gave him. ways he described as "eating steak. but they get complicated really fast.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? characters mean by "eating steak"? Suppose you grew up with a friend you called "Jiro. His name is really "Takeshi. So perhaps he really has managed to eat steak on many occasions." You didn't realize it. Morpheus asks: http://whatisthematrix. Isn't it plausible then that in your mouth. Interestingly. the story we just sketched may be right." "Jiro" is his uncle's name. this doesn't seem to be the movie's own attitude.html (22 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . I know that this steak doesn't exist.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor. At least." Now perhaps all he means by "eating steak" is just interacting in those certain way with the Matrix.warnerbros. Is there? The philosophical issues here are fascinating. and no one bothered to correct you. And when Morpheus and Neo are fighting in the sparring program. but isn't. Jeremy has grown up inside the Matrix program. But you got the names mixed up when you were little. "Jiro" now means Takeshi? Similarly." It's not clear that there's anything more that Jeremy would like to be doing. So all your life you've been saying "Jiro" to talk about Takeshi.

and where we can agree that the people inside the Matrix really would value that same thing. then we'll have found something that really does deserve the name of "what's bad about living in the Matrix. they're rejecting the view that all they mean by "steak" and "air" is interacting in certain ways with the Matrix program. not with patterns in the Matrix simulation. We can suppose we're talking about people who have spent all their lives so far inside the Matrix. They wouldn't just value having some Matrix substitute." That is. and have just been freshly plugged in. not 1s and 0s. They only seem to have it.html (23 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . the philosophical issues here can get really complicated.warnerbros.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? Do you think that's air you're breathing? Cypher and Morpheus are both rejecting the view that the Matrix simulations really provide what they mean by "steak" and "air. I want to try to find something we value that goes beyond what experiences we're having. Presumably what they mean by "eating steak" has to do with cow flesh. Presumably what they mean by "air" is made up of nitrogen and oxygen. One way to avoid these difficulties is to concentrate on what would be bad about living in the Matrix for the first generation of Matrix inductees: people who grew up outside the Matrix. As I said. http://whatisthematrix. If we can find something like that. And yet this will be something that people inside the Matrix don't have." I can think of three possibilities. I want to try a different strategy.

Even if you never found out about it. and don't have any capacity to benefit from. But not everybody feels that way. It would suck if the children you devote so much love and attention to are really just parts of a computer program. and genuine feelings towards them. and so on. For instance. figuring such matters out is important. One thing we place a lot of value on in life are our interactions with other people.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor. your efforts. or set them off on a crusade like the one Neo undertakes at the end of the movie. You'll be able to live a decent life there. We don't want them to be programming constructs. They may not care whether their friends and lovers really have an inner life of their own." Perhaps for some people. I think that for most of us. it would be bad if the person who acts like your best friend really despises you. though. For some people. They value learning the truth about those matters. you just won't have any memory of your past. Most of us also want the important people in our lives to be real. Most of us really would like to have the real thing. like Mouse's "Woman in Red. Most of us want our friends' feelings to be genuine. or to appreciate. It would be enough if their friends and lovers acted the their parts well. and have their own thoughts and emotions. For your average non-physicist. I'd guess that physicists in the Matrix have some fundamentally false beliefs about the underlying make-up of their world. programming constructs are enough.warnerbros. Nor do you http://whatisthematrix.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? The first has to do with certain kinds of scientific knowledge. The second candidate for being what's bad about living in the Matrix has to do with interpersonal relationships.html (24 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . Suppose that tomorrow we're going to wipe your memory clean and ship you off to a new colony. the possibility that we're mistaken about questions like these isn't going to provoke existential anxiety. Here's another thought-experiment. this would not be enough. what the "laws of nature" are.

In Nozick's experience machine.g. and so kept them from buying other nice things for their new life. before we wipe your memory clean.. You don't get to interact with other people.) You know this now. it seems like people do get to interact http://whatisthematrix. And so on.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor. You just get to enjoy your own experience script. if you spend $1.000 we'll set it up so that the apartment you get there doesn't have cockroaches. you'll get an extremely realistic set of friends and lovers in the new colony. this seems to be lacking. How would you spend your money? What if there were two options on the menu.warnerbros. If you choose Option 1. (See the discussion of "solitary Matrices" in Richard Hanley's essay. So one thing that many of us value in life is that the other people we form emotional attachments to are real people. For instance. Most people I know would choose Option 2.html (25 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . But today. They won't have any inner life of their own. His experience machine sounds like a one-person Matrix. they'd choose Option 2 even if it meant they'd have to put up with more cockroaches. You won't be able to distinguish them from the real thing. But really they'll just be empty shells animated by a (non-intelligent) computer program. E. we allow you to spend the money you have left to arrange a nice life for yourself in the new colony. If you choose Option 2. but when you get to the colony you will have forgotten it. they'll be NPCs. (In the terminology of role-playing games. you get friends and lovers who are real people. even if it were somewhat more expensive.) In the real Matrix.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? get to take any of your money or personal belongings along with you. on the other hand. and that they care about us in the ways they seem to.

what seems awful about our enslavement in the Matrix is rather that our enemies have so much control over what happens to us.warnerbros.. As Morpheus puts it: What is the Matrix? Control. Similarly. but they're slaves nonetheless. Perhaps the machines ensure that—except for the rare occasions when an Agent takes over your body and gets it killed—we live longer and healthier lives in the Matrix energyfarm than we would in the wild.html (26 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . unaware of their chains. They have only a very limited ability to shape their own futures. Many of us still wouldn't like it. We'd object to the mere fact of those old Nazis having so much power over us. We've fought a brutal http://whatisthematrix. No. Suppose that for the most part they'll keep the government running in ways we like. anyway. In the movie. Now—to me anyway—the most disturbing thing about this isn't that the machines are farming us for energy. the machines in the Matrix are our enemies. So a lack of interpersonal relationships may be a bad thing about Nozick's machine. They're not in charge of their own lives.. built to keep us under control. I think our third candidate for what's bad about living in the Matrix is more apt. The Matrix is a computer-generated dream world. Perhaps the machines are only taking energy we were making no use of.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? with many other real human beings. Suppose we discovered that a secret Nazi cabal were really running our government. but it doesn't seem to be a bad thing about the Matrix we see in the movie.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor. Wouldn't that be awful? Suppose they're not actively causing any harm. We're not told enough about how the energy-farming works to make it seem very bad. They may be contented slaves. humans in the Matrix are all slaves.

And what if our ambitions don't please the farmers? For instance. Of course. like opening a restaurant or becoming a famous actor. then you may very well be able to achieve them.. Generations of us have now lived out their lives in the Matrix. After all. they'll also see to it that none of our grander baser ambitions get http://whatisthematrix. what if we are computer scientists working to create artificial intelligence? The machines would probably find it easiest to just keep sabotaging our attempts. And they certainly wouldn't want us to create benevolent AIs. because the machines have found that keeps their energy-farm running smoothly.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? war with them. Now they have immense power over us. Any long-term efforts of this sort would be an exercise an futility. So generations of us have all experienced life in this simulated end-ofthe-20th-century. According to Agent Smith.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor. introducing some long-term social change—then whatever progress you make towards that goal will be wiped out when the simulation gets reset. That would be bad for their crops.html (27 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . But if your ambitions are larger—e. This means there are real limits to how much we can accomplish. inside the Matrix. the Matrix was designed to simulate the end of the 20th century.warnerbros. AIs who would figure out about the Matrix and fight on our side.g. But presumably they do something like that. As long as it suits their purposes. What happens when the simulation gets up to 2003? Do the machines erase our memories and reset everything back to 1980? The movie doesn't say. noble ambitions of this sort never get realized. they'll manage our lives in ways we like. But many of us will still be disturbed by their having so much power over us. and see to it that grand. So the machines will tinker with our history. We want to be in control of our own futures. they wouldn't want us to re-enact the war between humans and machines. If your ambitions in the Matrix are relatively small-scale.

Sure. If you're of a philosophical bent. The Matrix raises so many interesting metaphysical and epistemological issues. But if given the choice.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? realized. like me. One thing we place a lot of value on is being in charge of our own lives. there will always be some limits to what we can do. We don't want other intelligent agents deciding such things for us.html (28 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . And plausibly. it's a surprising answer.warnerbros. not being someone else's slave or plaything. We don't want our long-term efforts to be futile. They probably just disconnect or reprogram anyone who's hatching plans for mass genocide. We want to be politically free. that may not correlate well with how well-off our lives and society are. For me. But we'd like to have as much control over our destiny as we can. then those issues will be intellectually compelling. Especially when those agents' first priority is how well their energy-farms are doing. We want to have the real thing. what people mean by "political freedom" and "being in charge of our own lives" is the same inside the Matrix as outside it. So it seems rotten if the machines control our fates and our civilization. When we're inside the Matrix. we haven't got it. I think most of us would like humans to be in charge of our own destiny.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor. either. at least. We just don't realize that we haven't got it. We're not indifferent between the real thing and some Matrix simulation of it. But there's a difference between what we find intellectually compelling and what we place the most http://whatisthematrix. Very likely we'll never be able to vacation in the center of the sun. So I think this is the best answer about what's so bad about living in the Matrix. We don't want to be living out someone else's plan for our lives.

warnerbros. It would be the fact that Life in the Matrix is a kind of Slavery. and try to free everyone they can. of the sort of we've discussed.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_pryor. Rather. the worst thing would be something political.What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? value on in life. If the Matrix weren't a kind of enslavement—and it still involved interacting with other real people—then maybe it wouldn't be so bad after all. For most of us. That is what motivates Neo and Morpheus and Trinity to fight the machines.html (29 of 29) [4/8/2003 16:58:56] . I think that is what's really bad about living in the Matrix we see in the movie. James Pryor http://whatisthematrix. the worst thing about living in the Matrix would not be something metaphysical or epistemological. Intellectual matters will be only one value among many.

It believes that it has a body. When the brain produces outputs. It believes it is one place. the brain is connected to a giant computer simulation of a world. he thinks that he has hair. It has all sorts of false beliefs about the world. He thinks that he lives in a city. The brain is massively deluded.The Matrix as Metaphysics I.html (1 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . he thinks it is 1999. inside a scientist's laboratory. The simulation determines which inputs the brain receives. despite the fact that it lacks a body. It believes that it is walking outside in the sunlight. it seems. things seem very much as they seem to you and me. when in fact it may be somewhere quite different. but in fact it is inside a dark lab.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. From the brain's point of view. but it has no body. Neo's situation at the beginning of The Matrix is something like this. and he http://whatisthematrix.warnerbros. Perhaps it thinks it is in Tucson. A disembodied brain is floating in a vat. Brains in Vats The Matrix presents a version of an old philosophical fable: the brain in a vat. when it is actually in Australia. The scientist has arranged that the brain will be stimulated with the same sort of inputs that a normal embodied brain receives. The internal state of the brain is just like that of a normal brain. these are fed back into the simulation. To do this. or even in outer space.

warnerbros. the year is around 2199. And let's say that someone is envatted. Neo is a brain in a vat. How do I know that I am not in a matrix? After all. we will look at ways in which this set-up might be varied. and so is Neo. if they have a cognitive system which receives its inputs from and sends its outputs to a matrix. When the envatted cognitive system produces motor outputs. there is no way to tell for sure that I am not in the situation of the brain in a vat. and the world has been darkened by war. or that they are in a matrix. Let's say that a matrix (lower-case "m") is an artificially-designed computer simulation of a world. hooked up to a matrix.html (2 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . In reality. But the essential details are much the same. A connection is arranged so that whenever this body receives sensory inputs inside the simulation. there could be a brain in a vat structured exactly like my brain. Then the brain at the beginning is envatted. So the Matrix in the movie is one example of a matrix. with experiences indistinguishable from those I am having now. http://whatisthematrix. corresponding outputs will be fed to the motor organs of the simulated body.The Matrix as Metaphysics thinks that it is sunny outside. From the inside. In effect. the envatted cognitive system will receive sensory inputs of the same sort. When the possibility of a matrix is raised. (Later. We can imagine that a matrix simulates the entire physics of a world. keeping track of every last particle throughout space and time. a question immediately follows. and the computer simulation is controlled by machines rather than by a scientist.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. he has no hair. There are a few small differences from the vat scenario above: Neo's brain is located in a body. So it seems that there is no way to know for sure that I am not in a matrix.) An envatted being will be associated with a particular simulated body. he is floating in space.

If so. The Matrix Hypothesis is one that we should take seriously. as the Matrix is just one specific version of a matrix. It thinks it is in Tucson. Equivalently. I am not really in Tucson. the Matrix Hypothesis says that I am envatted and have always been envatted. it seems that if I am envatted. there may well be many more beings who are in a matrix than beings who are not.warnerbros. I will ignore the complication that people sometimes travel back and forth between the Matrix and the external world. technology will evolve that will allow beings to create computer simulations of entire worlds. it thinks it has a body. And for now. Given all this. my own corresponding beliefs are false. Likewise. There may well be vast numbers of such computer simulations. Whether this is right or not. all of these beliefs are false. These issues aside. It seems to be a skeptical hypothesis: a hypothesis that I cannot rule out. As Nick Bostrom has suggested.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. So if I don't know that I am not envatted. and I don't know that I have a body. Serious consequences seem to follow.The Matrix as Metaphysics Let us call the hypothesis that I am in a matrix and have always been in a matrix the Matrix Hypothesis. and one that http://whatisthematrix. then I don't know that I am in Tucson. it thinks it is sitting at a desk writing an article. I am not really sitting at a desk. it certainly seems that we cannot be certain that we are not in a matrix. My envatted counterpart seems to be massively deluded. we can think of the Matrix Hypothesis informally as saying that I am in the same sort of situation as people who have always been in the Matrix. If I am envatted. But on the face of it. I don't know that I am sitting at a desk.html (3 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . it is not out of the question that in the history of the universe. The Matrix Hypothesis threatens to undercut almost everything I know. This is not quite equivalent to the hypothesis that I am in the Matrix. one might even infer that it is more likely that we are in a matrix than that we are not. and I may not even have a body. compared to just one real world.

Envatment Reconsidered This is a standard way of thinking about the vat scenario. II. day-out world is real. Instead. envatted beings have largely correct beliefs about their world. I think this view is not quite right. Reality: That world is a hoax. in effect. I think that even if I am in a matrix. I'm probably not in Tucson. and not be envatted — but I can't rule out the possibility that they are false. The same goes for almost everything else I think I know about the external world. A brain in a vat is not massively deluded (at least if it has always been in the vat).The Matrix as Metaphysics would falsify most of my beliefs if it were true. So if I don't know that I'm not in a matrix. Philosophers have held this sort of view before. On the DVD case for the movie. my world is perfectly real. one sees the following: Perception: Our day-in. then I don't know that I'm in Tucson. If I'm in a matrix. it looks like none of these beliefs count as genuine knowledge. To sum up the reasoning: I don't know that I'm not in a matrix. the Matrix Hypothesis is not a skeptical hypothesis. (Recall http://whatisthematrix. Of course the beliefs might be true — I might be lucky.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. The 18th-century Irish philosopher George Berkeley held. Where there is a skeptical hypothesis. and its possibility does not undercut everything that I think I know. an elaborate deception spun by all-powerful machines that control us. Neo does not have massively false beliefs about the external world.warnerbros. So a skeptical hypothesis leads to skepticism about these beliefs: I believe these things. that appearance is reality. If so. It seems that this view is also endorsed by the people who created The Matrix . but I do not know them.html (4 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . Whoa.

If he thinks "It is sunny outside". And until recently.warnerbros.The Matrix as Metaphysics Morpheus: "What is real? How do you define real? If you're talking about what you can feel. for the original brain in a vat. of course. So I'll now present the line of reasoning that has convinced me that it is correct. And the same goes. but a metaphysical hypothesis. then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain. it is correct. it is correct. The Metaphysical Hypothesis I will argue that the hypothesis that I am envatted is not a skeptical hypothesis. and appearance is reality. But I now think there is a line of reasoning that shows that this is wrong. even envatted beings have true beliefs about the world. I am still sitting at my desk. I don't find the view that appearance is reality plausible.html (5 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . he is correct. then the world perceived by envatted beings is perfectly real: they have all the right appearances. he is correct. So the hypothesis that I am in a matrix is not a skeptical hypothesis. I am still in Tucson. if he thinks "I have hair". though for quite different reasons. At the beginning of the film. Initially.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. I have recently found myself embracing a similar conclusion. When it thinks "I have a body". III.") If this is right. This view may seem very counterintuitive at first. So on this view. it is a hypothesis about the underlying http://whatisthematrix. The same goes for Neo. and so on. what you can taste and see. so I don't endorse Berkeley's reasoning. what you can smell. But I think that even I am in a matrix. it seemed quite counterintuitive to me. That is. When it thinks "I am walking". I still think I cannot rule out the hypothesis that I am in a matrix. it has seemed quite obvious to me that brains in vats would have massively false beliefs.

nothing about this Metaphysical Hypothesis is skeptical. and cannot be http://whatisthematrix. A metaphysical hypothesis might make a claim about the reality that underlies physics itself. Where physics is concerned with the microscopic processes that underlie macroscopic reality. It makes a claim about the reality underlying physics. I will suggest that each of them is coherent. metaphysics is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality. I think the Matrix Hypothesis should be regarded as a metaphysical hypothesis with all three of these elements. In particular.warnerbros. I think the Matrix Hypothesis is equivalent to a version of the following three-part Metaphysical Hypothesis. Importantly. our cognitive systems are separate from physical processes. physical processes are fundamentally computational. Second.The Matrix as Metaphysics nature of reality. and about the creation of the world. such as one involving quantum mechanics. I will make the case by introducing each of the three parts of the Metaphysical Hypothesis separately. Rather. First. Both the physical hypothesis and the Metaphysical Hypothesis tells us about the processes underlying chairs. physical reality was created by beings outside physical space-time. the Metaphysical Hypothesis is analogous to a physical hypotheses. and there are still chairs and tables: it's just that their fundamental nature is a bit different from what we may have thought. about the nature of our minds. In this manner. The Metaphysical Hypothesis here tells us about the processes underlying our ordinary reality. Alternatively. They do not entail that there are no chairs. but interact with these processes. they tell us what chairs are really like. but it does not entail that this reality does not exist. We still have bodies. Third. it might say something about the nature of our minds. or the creation of our world.html (6 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] .com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers.

A version of it is believed by many people in our society. though. then one believes the Creation Hypothesis. (1) The Creation Hypothesis The Creation Hypothesis says: Physical space-time and its contents were created by beings outside physical space-time. the Creation Hypothesis is true. But I don't know for certain that it is false. and if one believes that God is outside physical spacetime. and I cannot conclusively rule it out. And I will suggest that none of them is a skeptical hypothesis: even if they are true. using the latest world-making technology in that universe. I will then argue that the Matrix Hypothesis hypothesis is equivalent to this combination.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. Perhaps our world was created by a relatively ordinary being in the "next universe up". If so.html (7 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . http://whatisthematrix. The hypothesis is clearly coherent. most of our ordinary beliefs are still correct. I don't know whether the Creation Hypothesis is true.The Matrix as Metaphysics conclusively ruled out. The same goes for a combination of all three hypothesis. If one believes that God created the world. and perhaps by the majority of the people in the world. One needn't believe in God to believe the Creation Hypothesis.warnerbros. This is a familiar hypothesis.

Underneath the level of quarks and electrons and photons is a further level: the level of bits. Most famously. physical reality may be a sort of cellular automata. These bits are governed by a computational algorithm. (2) The Computational Hypothesis The Computational Hypothesis says: Microphysical processes throughout space-time are constituted by underlying computational processes. and so on. Even if it is true. The Computational Hypothesis says that physics as we know it not the fundamental level of reality. but some people take it seriously. I am still in Tucson. most of my ordinary beliefs are still true. or if I believe all reality started with the Big Bang. and microphysical processes underlie chemical processes.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. and so on. for example. Ed Fredkin has postulated that the universe is at bottom some sort of computer. suggesting that at the fundamental level. Stephen Wolfram has taken up the idea in his book A New Kind of Science. The Computational Hypothesis is not as widely believed as the Creation Hypothesis. And some physicists have looked into the possibility that the laws of physics might be formulated http://whatisthematrix. I still have hands. But most of my everyday beliefs about the external world will remain intact. More recently.The Matrix as Metaphysics The Creation Hypothesis is not a skeptical hypothesis. which at a higher-level produces the processes that we think of as fundamental particles.warnerbros. something underlies microphysical processes. forces.html (8 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . Perhaps a few of my beliefs will turn out false: if I am an atheist. with interacting bits governed by simple rules. Just as chemical processes underlie biological processes.

Rather. if the Computational Hypothesis is true. there are still tables and chairs. One might worry that pure bits could not be the fundamental level of reality: a bit is just a 0 or a 1. On this picture. It doesn't matter for present purposes what that more fundamental level is. The Computational Hypothesis is not a skeptical hypothesis. bits always have to be implemented by more basic states. I don't think it's completely out of the question that there could be a universe of "pure bits". and macroscopic reality still exists. at which the computational processes are implemented. but they still exist.The Matrix as Metaphysics computationally. http://whatisthematrix. We can suppose that the computational level is itself constituted by an even more fundamental level. if speculative. But this doesn't matter for present purposes. which are themselves constituted by more basic processes. I don't know that it is false. I don't know whether this objection is right. and reality can't really be zeroes and ones. Or perhaps a bit is just a "pure difference" between two basic states. I don't know whether the Computational Hypothesis is correct. Similarly. and there can't be a reality made up of pure differences. From now on I will regard the Computational Hypothesis as saying this. electrons and protons will be analogous to molecules: they are made up of something more basic. such as voltages in a normal computer. The hypothesis is coherent. If it is true. It just turns out that their fundamental reality is a little different from what we thought. and I cannot conclusively rule it out. But again. or could be seen as the consequence of certain computational principles. there are still electrons and protons.html (9 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] .com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. All that matters is that microphysical processes are constituted by computational processes.warnerbros.

com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. for example. accepting the Computational Hypothesis may lead us to revise a few metaphysical beliefs: that electrons and protons are fundamental. Whether or not the Mind-Body Hypothesis is true. we cannot http://whatisthematrix. it is certainly coherent. But most of our ordinary beliefs are unaffected. and quite widely believed. Descartes believed something like this: on his view. we have nonphysical minds that interact with our physical bodies.The Matrix as Metaphysics The situation here is analogous to that with quantum mechanics or relativity. The Mind-Body Hypothesis is also quite familiar. but there are still many people who accept the Mind-Body Hypothesis.warnerbros. These may lead us to revise a few "metaphysical" beliefs about the external world: that the world is made of classical particles. But most of our ordinary beliefs are left intact. or that there is absolute time.html (10 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . Likewise. The hypothesis is less widely believed today than in Descartes' time. (3) The Mind-Body Hypothesis The Mind-Body Hypothesis says: My mind is (and has always been) constituted by processes outside physical space-time. and receives its perceptual inputs from and sends its outputs to processes in physical space-time. Even if contemporary science tends to suggest that the hypothesis is false.

Like the Combination Hypothesis. I am still in Tucson. and we cannot conclusively rule it out. and that our minds are outside physical space-time but interact with it. this combines the Creation Hypothesis. and so on. I still have a body. Even if my mind is outside physical space-time. we can consider the Metaphysical Hypothesis (with a capital M). Finally. At most. It also adds the following more specific claim: the computational processes underlying physical space-time were designed by the creators as a computer simulation of a world. The Mind-Body Hypothesis is not a skeptical hypothesis.html (11 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . (It may also be useful to think of the Metaphysical Hypothesis as saying that the computational processes constituting physical space-time are part of a broader domain. It says that physical spacetime and its contents were created by beings outside physical space-time. the Computational Hypothesis. accepting this hypothesis would make us revise a few metaphysical beliefs about our minds. and that the creators and my cognitive system are also located within http://whatisthematrix. and the Mind-Body Hypothesis. which combines all three. it is not a skeptical hypothesis. As with the hypotheses taken individually. And like the hypotheses taken individually.warnerbros. Accepting it might lead us to revise a few of our beliefs. (4) The Metaphysical Hypothesis We can now put these hypotheses together. but it would leave most of them intact.The Matrix as Metaphysics rule it out conclusively. First we can consider the Combination Hypothesis. the Combination Hypothesis is coherent. Our ordinary beliefs about external reality will remain largely intact.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. that microphysical processes are constituted by computational processes.

where this means that if one accepts the one. most of our ordinary beliefs about the external world will be left intact.html (12 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . IV. And again. the two hypotheses imply each other. That is. one should accept the http://whatisthematrix. but it matches up with the most common way of thinking about the Matrix Hypothesis. I will argue that the Matrix Hypothesis is equivalent to the Metaphysical Hypothesis. the Metaphysical Hypothesis is a coherent hypothesis.) The Metaphysical Hypothesis is a slightly more specific version of the Combination Hypothesis. and if I accept the Matrix Hypothesis. The Matrix Hypothesis as a Metaphysical Hypothesis Recall that the Matrix Hypothesis says: I have (and have always had) a cognitive system that receives its inputs from and sends its outputs to an artificiallydesigned computer simulation of a world.warnerbros. Even if we accept it. I should accept the Matrix Hypothesis. I should accept the Metaphysical Hypothesis. and we cannot conclusively rule it out. in that in specifies some relations between the various parts of the hypothesis.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. in the following sense: if I accept the Metaphysical Hypothesis. Again. This addition is not strictly necessary for what follows. it is not a skeptical hypothesis.The Matrix as Metaphysics this domain.

The Creation Hypothesis (along with the rest of the Metaphysical Hypothesis) implies that these processes were artificially designed to simulate a world. one should accept the Creation Hypothesis. and the relevant relations among these.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. This is just what has to obtain in order for the Metaphysical Hypothesis to obtain. http://whatisthematrix. which was created by other beings in that domain. There is a domain containing my cognitive system.html (13 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . In conjunction with the Computational Hypothesis. causally interacting with a computer simulation of physical-space time. So the Metaphysical Hypothesis implies the Matrix Hypothesis. To put it informally: If I accept the Matrix Hypothesis. the Mind-Body Hypothesis. Here is the shape of the world according to the Matrix Hypothesis. The other direction is closely related. This may be a little clearer through a picture.warnerbros. this implies that my cognitive system receives inputs from and sends outputs to the computational processes that constitute physical space-time. I accept that what underlies apparent reality is just as the Metaphysical Hypothesis specifies. The Mind-Body Hypothesis implies that I have (and have always had) an isolated cognitive system which receives its inputs from and sends its outputs to processes in physical space-time. from the Metaphysical Hypothesis to the Matrix Hypothesis. Take the first direction first. It follows that I have (and have always had) an isolated cognitive system that receives its inputs from and sends its outputs to an artificially-designed computer simulation of a world. If one accepts this. the Computational Hypothesis. This is just the Matrix Hypothesis.The Matrix as Metaphysics other.

or that there are no tables and chairs. or that I have no body. There are still tables. If I accept it. this picture of the shape of the world is exactly the same as the picture of the Metaphysical Hypothesis given above. My mind may not have been created by these beings.The Matrix as Metaphysics At the fundamental level. or that I am not in Tucson. So if one accepts that the world is as it is according to the Matrix Hypothesis.html (14 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] .warnerbros. one might object that the Matrix Hypothesis implies that a computer simulation of physical processes exists. I should not infer that the external world does not exist. chairs. My mind is separate from physical processes.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. and bodies: these are made up fundamentally of bits. For example. Rather. it follows that the Matrix Hypothesis is not a skeptical hypothesis. One might make various objections. http://whatisthematrix. I will discuss this and other objections in later sections. but is still perfectly real. I take it that there is a strong case that the Matrix Hypothesis implies the Metaphysical Hypothesis. though. and of whatever constitutes these bits. and vice versa. but it still interacts with these bits. For now. Life in the Matrix If this is right. and it may not be made up of bits. one should accept that it is as it is according to the Metaphysical Hypothesis. V. and interacts with them. This world was created by other beings. but (unlike the Metaphysical Hypothesis) it does not imply that the physical processes themselves exist. I should infer that the physical world is constituted by computations beneath the microphysical level.

it was not created within our time at all. and come to accept that they are in a matrix. Even if we not in a matrix. If it is correct. perhaps.warnerbros.html (15 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . If they discover their situation. When do our nonphysical minds start to exist? It depends on just when new envatted cognitive systems are attached to the simulation (perhaps at the time of conception within the matrix. or perhaps at time of birth?). Is there life after death? It depends on just what happens to the envatted systems once their simulated bodies die. We can think of the Matrix Hypothesis as a creation myth for the information age.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. If we are in a matrix. How do mind and body interact? By causal links that are outside physical space and time. http://whatisthematrix. Underlying the physical world is a giant computation. Many of the same issues that arise with standard creation myths arise here. When was the world created? Strictly speaking. we can extend a version of this reasoning to other beings who are in a matrix. just not necessarily by gods. with an independent nature that interacts with this structure. and so on. At most. this is simply the way that the world is. but it would have been much easier for them to start the simulation at the Big Bang and let things run their course from there. These beings are not massively deluded: most of their ordinary beliefs about their world are correct. and creators created this world by implementing this computation.The Matrix as Metaphysics The result is a complex picture of the fundamental nature of reality. And our minds lie outside this physical structure. they should come to revise their beliefs about the underlying nature of their world: they should come to accept that external objects are made of bits. When did history begin? The creators might have started the simulation in 4004 BC (or in 1999) with the fossil record intact. they should not reject their ordinary beliefs about the external world. then the physical world was created. but it is a picture of a full-blooded external world. The picture is strange and surprising.

com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. I will remain neutral on that issue here. It may http://whatisthematrix. and about the far future. I believe that my friends are conscious. the envatted beings will have false beliefs about the past and/or the future in their worlds.warnerbros. The exception might be beings such as Agent Smith. Whether these beings are conscious depends on whether computation is enough for consciousness. But as long as the simulation covers the lifespan of these beings. where there is a legitimate issue about whether other beings are conscious. there is an envatted being in the external reality. This is a multi-vat matrix: for each of my perceived friends. but are entirely computational. We could circumvent this issue by building into the Matrix Hypothesis the requirement that all the beings we perceive are envatted. is this correct? In the Matrix depicted in the movie. One may worry about beliefs about other people's minds. we are not much worse off than in the actual world. and we can stipulate that it is built into the Matrix Hypothesis too. This is built into the Metaphysical Hypothesis. these beliefs are mostly fine. But even if we do not build in this requirement. by requiring that the computer simulation be a simulation of an entire world. who is presumably conscious like me. There may be some respects in which the beings in a matrix are deceived. who are not envatted. quite independently of whether we are in a matrix. If I am in a matrix. These will be unthreatened as long as the computer simulation covers all of space-time. from the Big Bang until the end of the universe. One might also worry about beliefs about the distant past.The Matrix as Metaphysics There are a few qualifications here. In these cases. it is plausible that they will have mostly correct beliefs about the current state of their environment.html (16 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . and there may be others that only last for a short while. There may be other simulations that start in the recent past (perhaps the Matrix in the movie is like this).

and about the extent of the world — casts doubt on our belief in the reality of the world that we perceive. though the extent of the creators' control is not quite clear. But the same goes if there is an interfering god in a non-matrix world. Importantly. cosmologists seriously entertain the hypothesis that our universe may stem from a black hole in the "next universe up". this sort of worry can arise equally in a non-matrix world. At worst. and whether we have control over our worlds quite independently of whether we are in a matrix. then the Matrix Hypothesis does not raise the distinctive skeptical http://whatisthematrix. the Matrix Hypothesis is no more skeptical in this respect than the Creation Hypothesis in a non-matrix world. And the Matrix Hypothesis does not imply that the creators interfere with the world. The inhabitants of a matrix may also be deceived in that reality is much bigger than they think.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. when in fact there is much more in the world. But either way. If this is right.html (17 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] .warnerbros. whether the past and the future exist.) If so. and that in reality there may be a whole tree of universes. the world that we see is perfectly real. none of these sources of skepticism — about other minds. But again. They might think their physical universe is all there is. And none of these worries is especially tied to the matrix scenario. One can raise doubts about whether other minds exist. If so. the past and the future. about our control over the world. in the way that the vat hypothesis is supposed to do. then these beings may have much less control over what happens than they think. including beings and objects that they can never possibly see. (The Matrix in the movie may be like this. and there may be beings and objects that we can never possibly see. None of them leads us to doubt the existence of external objects such as tables and chairs. the world is also much bigger than we think. For example.The Matrix as Metaphysics be that the creators of the matrix control and interfere with much of what happens in the simulated world. though it leaves the possibility open.

The Matrix Hypothesis implies only that a simulation of physical processes exists. it is not nearly as worrying as one might have thought. To say that some computational systems will yield real physical processes in this role is http://whatisthematrix. So there is some sort of computational system that could yield reality here. The argument works quite differently. On this view. the objector will hold that not all computational systems are created equal. Objection: Simulation is not Reality (This slightly technical section can be skipped without too much loss. it is clearly possible that a computational level underlies real physical processes. if I am in a matrix. If so. then physical processes do not really exist. But here.) A common line of objection is that a simulation is not the same as reality. But if I am right. But the objection helps us to flesh out the informal argument that the Matrix Hypothesis implies the Metaphysical Hypothesis. I suggested before that it is not out of the question that we really are in a matrix. our world is no less real than we thought it was.html (18 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . the Metaphysical Hypothesis implies that physical processes really exist (they are explicitly mentioned in the Computational Hypothesis and elsewhere).warnerbros. One might have thought that this is a worrying conclusion. then the Matrix Hypothesis cannot imply the Metaphysical Hypothesis. It just has a surprising fundamental nature. By contrast. Even if we are in such a matrix. In response: My argument does not require the general assumption that simulation is the same as reality.The Matrix as Metaphysics issues that it is often taken to raise. Because the Computational Hypothesis is coherent. VI. and it is possible that the computations here are implemented by further processes in turn.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers.

the precise way in which it is implemented is irrelevant to whether it does underlie physical processes. But then. If so. abstracting away from their manner of implementation. Any computation will do. On the first point: let us think of abstract computations in purely formal terms. it is possible that this computational level is implemented by more basic processes. In particular. as long as it has enough detail to correspond to the fine details of physical processes. On the second point: given an abstract computation that could underlie physical reality. dynamically evolving in a way that corresponds to the particle's evolution. That is. we can appeal to two principles.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. then the Matrix Hypothesis may not yield reality.The Matrix as Metaphysics not to say that they all do. There are many hypotheses about what the underlying processes could be. Perhaps some of them are merely simulations. and none of them would lead us to reject the hypothesis that the computational level constitutes physical processes. the fact that the implementation was designed as a simulation is irrelevant. Once we have discovered this. To rebut this objection. it is guaranteed that the computation will have a rich enough causal structure that it could in principle underlie physics in our world. but none of them is especially privileged. First. or whatever is fundamental). waves. it must have computational elements that correspond to every particle in reality (likewise for fields.warnerbros. the Computational Hypothesis is http://whatisthematrix. given an abstract computation that could underlie physical processes. Second. any abstract computation that could be used to simulate physical space-time is such that it could turn out to underlie real physical processes. it does not matter how the computation is implemented. The conclusion then follows directly.html (19 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . For an abstract computation to qualify as a simulation of physical reality. We can imagine discovering that some computational level underlies the level of atoms and electrons.

There is one further constraint on the implementing processes: they must be connected to our experiences in the right sort of way. and it guarantees that it is hooked up to our http://whatisthematrix. In particular. the manner of implementation does not matter. So the Matrix Hypothesis has no problems here. But an appropriate hook-up to our perceptual experiences is built into the Matrix Hypothesis. we have seen that a computational process could underlie physical reality. on the most natural understanding of that hypothesis. as long as it is hooked up to our experiences in the relevant way. then there will be no reason to think that these computational processes underlie the physical processes that we perceive. then. If this is not the case. that any abstract computation that qualifies as a simulation of physical reality could play this role.warnerbros. That is when we have an experience of an object. it is irrelevant whether or not these implementing processes were artificially created. The Matrix Hypothesis guarantees that we have an abstract computation of the right sort.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. the processes underlying the simulation of that object must be causally connected in the right sort of way to our experiences. Overall. If there is an isolated computer simulation to which nobody is connected in this way.html (20 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . What matters is the intrinsic nature of the processes.The Matrix as Metaphysics implementation-independent: as long as we have the right sort of abstract computation. we should say that it is simply a simulation. not their origin. If so. and it is irrelevant whether they were intended as a simulation. And what matters about this intrinsic nature is simply that they are arranged in such a way to implement the right sort of computation. and that any implementation of this computation could constitute physical reality. the fact that the implementation originated as a simulation is irrelevant to whether it can constitute physical reality.

made of ectoplasm. it is no more deluded than a Cartesian mind. So the Matrix Hypothesis implies that the Computational Hypothesis is correct. an angel might look at my ectoplasmic mind and note that in fact it is not exposed to any sun at all. just say Descartes is right that we have disembodied minds outside space-time.The Matrix as Metaphysics experiences in the relevant way. But this does not imply that the person is alone in a dark room. This sense manifests itself in a number of related objections. By analogy. when in fact it is alone in a dark room. The angel would be wrong to infer that I have an incorrect belief. even if my ectoplasmic mind is not.warnerbros. Likewise.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. Objection 1: A brain in a vat may think it is outside walking in the sun. These are not direct objections to the argument above. When I think "I am outside in the sun". VII. Surely it is deluded! Response: The brain is alone in a dark room.html (21 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . it is hard to avoid the sense that it is deluded. but they are objections to its conclusion. Does it follow that my thought is incorrect? Presumably not: I can be outside in the sun. At least. we should not infer that envatted being has an incorrect belief. Other Objections When we look at a brain in a vat from the outside. and that the computer simulation constitutes genuine physical processes. http://whatisthematrix.

but it is not looking at the real Terry. Rather. Objection 2: An envatted being may believe that it is in Tucson. so its belief is true. The same sort of thing is happening in the case above. it refers to something else entirely: call this Tucson*.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. Response: This case is like the last one. Objection 3: Before he leaves the Matrix. by perceptual inputs and motor outputs. Surely this belief is deluded. My duplicate really is looking at Terry*. and it may well in fact be in Tucson*. and think "that's Terry". Because Tucson is not Tucson*. Is its belief false? It seems not: my duplicate's "Terry" concept refers not to Terry. But in reality he has no hair (the body in the vat is bald). when in fact it is in New York. http://whatisthematrix. So the fact that Neo does not have real hair is irrelevant to whether his belief is true. the fact that the being has never been in Tucson is irrelevant to whether its belief is true. or "virtual Tucson". Neo's concept of "hair" does not refer to real hair. Elsewhere in the world. Response: The envatted being's concept of "Tucson" does not refer to what we call Tucson. a duplicate of me looks at a duplicate of Terry. but to something else that we might call hair* ("virtual hair"). It thinks "that's Terry".warnerbros. Once we recognize this. We might think of this as a "virtual location" (more on this in a moment). it really is thinking that it is in Tucson*. A rough analogy: I look at my colleague Terry. What matters is the processes that our minds are connected to.The Matrix as Metaphysics The moral is that the immediate surroundings of our minds may well be irrelevant to the truth of most of our beliefs. but to his duplicate Terry*. Neo believes that he has hair.html (22 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . When the being says to itself "I am in Tucson". Surely this belief is deluded. and has never been anywhere near Tucson. the objection falls away.

If the envatted being is hooked up to a simulation in my computer. From the first-person perspective. And if another being is envatted. Virtual Tucson is not Tucson. and so on) are all made of bits. and our words refer to different things. This sort of perspective shift is common in thinking about the matrix scenario. virtual Tucson. though the "next world up" might not be http://whatisthematrix. Tucson*. but they exist inside the computer all the same. Objection 4: What sort of objects does an envatted being refer to.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. That is. But if we are in the matrix. So in this case. What is virtual hair.html (23 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . and so on? Response: These are all entities constituted by computational processes. we don't have real hands? Response: No. Does this mean that if we are in the matrix. If we are not in the matrix. but someone else is. the objects that it refers to (hair*. so he is correct. real things in our world are made of bits. depending on whether our perspective is inside or outside the matrix. then the objects it refers to are constituted by patterns of bits inside my computer. Tucson. our hands aren't virtual hands. we suppose that we are in a matrix. If I am envatted. but it exists inside the computer all the same. We might call these things virtual objects. we should say that their term "hand" refers to virtual hands. then our term "hand" refers to something that's made of bits: virtual hands. and so on) are likewise made of bits. Here. if we are in the matrix. Things look quite different. Objection 5: You just said that virtual hands are not real hands.warnerbros. Virtual hands are not hands (assuming I am not envatted).The Matrix as Metaphysics Neo really does has virtual hair. then the objects that I refer to (hair. real hands are made of bits. or at least something that would be regarded as virtual hands by people in the next world up. but our term does not.

but the "next world down" is made of bits. From the third-person perspective. but there may be no precise part of the micro-level wavefunction that we can say "is" the chair or the university. there may be no precise set of bits in the micro-level computational process that is the chair or the university. The chair and the university exist at a higher level. Here. On the first way of doing things. the envatted beings' words refer to computational entities. These exist at a higher level. or is the University of Arizona? These objects are all ultimately constituted by an underlying quantum wavefunction. our words refer to computational entities. Response: This question is like asking: just which part of the quantum wavefunction is this chair. On the second way of doing things. we suppose that someone else is in a matrix but we are not. Objection 6: Just which pattern of bits is a given virtual object? Surely it will be impossible to pick out a precise set. And if someone else is envatted. there may be no precise sets of bits in the computer simulation that "are" the objects they refer to.html (24 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . if we are envatted.The Matrix as Metaphysics made of bits. it performs http://whatisthematrix. but our words do not. a virtual chair may exist without being any precise set of bits. and it thinks it has friends. Likewise.warnerbros. and that it has friends. I think one can say truthfully (in our own language) that the envatted being performs actions. Objection 7: An envatted being thinks it performs actions. Are these beliefs correct? Response: One might try to say that the being performs actions* and that it has friends*. But for various reason I think it is not plausible that words like "action" and "friend" can shift their meanings as easily as words like like "Tucson" and "hair". Instead. real things in our world are not made of bits.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. To be sure. But just as a chair exists without being any precise part of the wavefunction.

we may not have many false beliefs. Surely. We are not omniscient creatures. we do not know that the universe is realized computationally. and our knowledge of the world is at best partial. football games. Other skeptical hypotheses are not quite as straightforward as the Matrix Hypothesis. there are still people.html (25 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . it will contradict a few of our more abstract metaphysical beliefs. a http://whatisthematrix.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. things in the world are realized computationally in a way that we might not have originally imagined. arranged in space-time just as we think they are. but there is much knowledge that we lack. but it is not the only example. the world is nothing like we think it is! Response: I deny this. If we are in a matrix. Even if we are in a matrix. For example. and its environment is not our environment but the virtual environment. or that computation suffices for consciousness). relativity theory. But the envatted being is not incorrect in this respect. there may well be much about the fundamental nature of reality that we do not know. In particular. I think that for many of them.warnerbros.The Matrix as Metaphysics actions in its environment. It is just that the world has a further nature that goes beyond our initial conception. And its friends likewise inhabit the virtual environment (assuming that we have a multi-vat matrix. At most. This is simply the condition of a creature living in a world. Objection 8: Set these technical points aside. But exactly the same goes for quantum mechanics. if we are in a matrix. and particles. VIII. Other Skeptical Hypotheses The Matrix Hypothesis is one example of a traditional "skeptical" hypothesis. But this is exactly what one might expect. Even if we are not in a matrix. and so on. Still. But this does not contradict any of our ordinary beliefs.

along with all my memories.html (26 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . but I have many false beliefs about the past. Recent Matrix Hypothesis: For most of my life I have not been envatted. Then I may believe that I am in Las Vegas now. Let's say that just yesterday someone put me into a simulation. One can argue.warnerbros. it seems that many of my beliefs about my current environment are false. their truth would not undercut all of our empirical beliefs about the physical world. In particular. undercutting some of our empirical beliefs. along the lines presented earlier.The Matrix as Metaphysics similar line of reasoning applies. and was put in a newly-created matrix.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. but these beliefs at false: I am really in a laboratory in Tucson. in which I fly to Las Vegas and gamble at a casino. where beliefs about the past are concerned). and most of my beliefs about its current states are plausibly true. I think the same should be said of the New Matrix Hypothesis. So the same goes for the New Matrix Hypothesis. one can argue that most of these are not global skeptical hypotheses: that is. but I was recently hooked up to a matrix. On that hypothesis. What if both the matrix and I have existed for only a short time? This hypothesis is a computational version of Bertrand Russell's Recent Creation Hypothesis: the physical world was created only recently (with fossil record intact). and that I am in a casino. but leaving many of these beliefs intact. most of them are partial skeptical hypotheses. and so was I (with memories intact). If I was recently put in a matrix without realizing it. the external world that I perceive really exists. that the New Matrix Hypothesis is equivalent to a combination of the Metaphysical Hypothesis with the Recent Creation Hypothesis. New Matrix Hypothesis: I was recently created. At worst. This combination is not a global skeptical hypothesis (though it is a partial skeptical hypothesis. http://whatisthematrix.

I am thinking that I am in the external Las Vegas. and that past reality has played a role in anchoring the contents of my thoughts that has no parallel under the New Matrix Hypothesis. It is only my recently acquired beliefs. Still. while the New Matrix Hypothesis yields false beliefs about the past and true beliefs about the present. but it does not cast doubt on all of them.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers.The Matrix as Metaphysics This result is quite different from the long-term matrix. I believe that I was born in Sydney. a computer simulates a small fixed environment in a world. this does not undercut all of my beliefs about the external world. my conception is anchored to the external reality.warnerbros. and the subjects in the simulation encounter some sort of barrier when http://whatisthematrix. So this is only a partial skeptical hypothesis: its possibility casts doubt on a subset of our empirical beliefs. The differences are tied to the fact that in Recent Matrix Hypothesis. Interestingly. my conception is anchored to the computationally constituted reality. So when I think that I am in Las Vegas. the Recent Matrix and the New Matrix hypothesis give opposite results. that there is water in the oceans. and this thought is false. that will be false. and all of these beliefs are correct. I really have a past existence for my beliefs to be about. stemming from perception of the simulated environment. But if I was just envatted yesterday. The difference lies in the fact that my conception of external reality is anchored to the reality in which I have lived most of my life.html (27 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . On one way of doing this. and so on. despite their similar nature: the Recent Matrix Hypothesis yields true beliefs about the past but false beliefs about the present. If I have been envatted all my life. Local Matrix Hypothesis: I am hooked up to a computer simulation of a fixed local environment in a world.

updating this information whenever necessary as time goes along. the Local Matrix Hypothesis can be seen as a combination of the Metaphysical Hypothesis with the Local Creation Hypothesis. they will simulate those. they might right now be concentrating on simulating a room in my house in Tucson. they match my memories and beliefs reasonably well.The Matrix as Metaphysics they try to leave that area. and making up new details when they need them. http://whatisthematrix. or fly to another city. Under this hypothesis. For example. This hypothesis avoids the obvious difficulties with a fixed local matrix. The same goes for when I encounter familiar people. Here the creators simulate a local environment and extend it when necessary.html (28 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . but false beliefs about matters further from home. If I walk into another room. and when the subject tries to drive to Nevada.warnerbros. with allowance for evolution in the meantime. in the movie The Thirteenth Floor. on which creators just created a local part of the physical world. extended when necessary depending on subject's movements. So we should say the same thing about this. For example. This hypothesis is analogous to a Local Creation Hypothesis. just California is simulated.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. Of course they need to make sure that when I go to these places. we will have true beliefs about nearby matters. as subjects are likely to discover the limits to their world. or people I have only heard about. the road says "Closed for Repair" (with faint green electronic mountains in the distance!). Presumably the simulators keep up a database of the information about the world that has been settled so far. Of course this is not the best way to create a matrix. By the usual sort of reasoning. Extendible Local Matrix Hypothesis: I am hooked up to a computer simulation of a local environment in a world.

So if we are in an extendible local matrix. the whole world is simulated at once. This has much lower start-up costs. it seems to me that this is the right conclusion. things are reversed.The Matrix as Metaphysics This sort of simulation is quite unlike simulation in an ordinary matrix.warnerbros. Here. If I am in a matrix. the extendible local matrix involves "just-in-time" simulation. The Matrix is much worse. external reality still exists. and extend it when necessary. Truman lives in an artificial environment made up of actors and props. By contrast. But if I am right. but once the simulation is up and running. this would be surprising. If we combine that hypothesis with the Metaphysical Hypothesis. external reality exists and many local beliefs are true. more of it may come into existence! The situation is reminiscent of The Truman Show. and so on. but it requires much more work and creativity as the simulation evolves. but again beliefs about matters further from home are false.html (29 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . This hypothesis is analogous to an Extendible Local Creation Hypothesis about ordinary reality. it will take care of itself. the result is the Extendible Local Matrix Hypothesis. then a great number of my beliefs are false. Truman has many true beliefs about his current environment: there really are tables and chairs in front of him. If we were to discover that we were (and always had been) in a matrix. then most of my beliefs about the external world are true. but there is not as much of it as we thought. which behave appropriately when he is around. In a matrix. There are high start-up costs. but we http://whatisthematrix. If I am in something like The Truman Show.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. under which creators create just a local physical environment. On reflection. But he is deeply mistaken about things outside his current environment. and further from home. Of course if I travel in the right direction. It is common to think that while The Truman Show poses a disturbing skeptical scenario. but which may be completely different when he is absent.

position. For the usual reasons. with a book on top of it with certain properties. that there is a table with such-and-such shape. yielding hypotheses such as a New Local Macroscopic Matrix Hypothesis. So all of them are compatible with the existence of physical reality.g. all of these can be seen as analogs of corresponding hypotheses about the physical world. http://whatisthematrix. it is not a global skeptical hypothesis either. we might well go insane.html (30 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . If we were to discover that we were (and always had been) in the Truman Show. with properties of shape. and so on. Macroscopic Matrix Hypothesis: I am hooked up to a computer simulation of macroscopic physical processes without microphysical detail. They will need to make some effort to make sure that these objects behave in a physically reasonable way. One can imagine that for ease of simulation. As such. Instead. and none is a global skeptical hypothesis. The Macroscopic Matrix Hypothesis can be seen as a combination of this hypothesis with a version of the Metaphysical Hypothesis. position. This is a coherent way our world could be. and it is not a global skeptical hypothesis. they might just represent macroscopic objects in the world and their properties: e. the makers of a matrix might not both to simulate low-level physics. color. One can also combine the various hypothesis above in various ways. and instead macroscopic physical objects exist as fundamental objects in the world. though it may lead to false scientific beliefs about lower levels of reality. and so on. and they will have to make special provisions for handling microphysical measurements. but one can imagine that at least a reasonable simulation could be created this way. I think this hypothesis is analogous to a Macroscopic World Hypothesis: there are no microphysical processes. and color.The Matrix as Metaphysics would quickly get used to it.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers.warnerbros.

If the evil genius is not bothering to simulate the microphysical level. A hypothesis like this was put forward by George Berkeley as a view about how our world might really be. If the evil genius simulates an entire world in his head in order to determine what inputs I should receive. Here we should say that physical reality exists and is constituted by processes within the genius. What should we say about it? This depends on just how the evil genius works. then we have a version of the God Hypothesis. This is Rene Descartes's classical skeptical hypothesis. but our beliefs about their microphysical nature are http://whatisthematrix. If the evil genius is simulating only a small part of the physical world. Here we should say that local external macroscopic objects exist. just enough to give me reasonably consistent inputs. Here we should say that just a local part of external reality exists. then we have an analog of the Macroscopic Matrix Hypothesis. If this is right.html (31 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . on which the simulation of the world is implemented in the mind of God. then we have an analog of the Local Matrix Hypothesis (in either its fixed or flexible versions). The God Hypothesis can be seen as a version of the Matrix Hypothesis. Berkeley intended this as a sort of metaphysical hypothesis about the nature of reality. If I am right. they are constituted by processes in the mind of God.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. and an evil genius is feeding me sensory inputs to give the appearance of an external world. Berkeley is closer to the truth. and our own thoughts and perceptions depend on God's mind. Most other philosophers have differed from Berkeley in regarding this as a sort of skeptical hypothesis. we should say that physical processes really exist: it's just that at the most fundamental level.warnerbros. but just the macroscopic level.The Matrix as Metaphysics The God Hypothesis: Physical reality is represented in the mind of God. Evil Genius Hypothesis: I have a disembodied mind.

It is just that this external reality has an underlying nature that is quite different from what we may have thought. What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world? The hypothesis that I am currently dreaming is analogous to a version of the Recent Matrix Hypothesis. some of the external reality that we apparently perceive really exists. The evil genius hypothesis is often taken to be a global skeptical hypothesis. What if I have always been dreaming? That is.warnerbros.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. we have analogs of the more local versions of the http://whatisthematrix. Even if the Evil Genius Hypothesis is correct. or just some macroscopic processes. we have something like the original Matrix Hypothesis. Dream Hypothesis: I am now and have always been dreaming. anchored in the past. then many of my beliefs about my current environment are incorrect. that you were so sure was real. this is incorrect. But if the reasoning above is right. without my realizing this? I think this case is analogous to the Evil Genius Hypothesis: it's just that the role of the "evil genius" is played by a part of my own cognitive system! If my dream-generating system simulates all of space-time. what if all of my apparent perceptual inputs have been generated by my own cognitive system. though we may have some false beliefs about it. I cannot rule it out conclusively. But presumably I still have many true beliefs about the external world. depending on details. Descartes raised the question: how do you know that you are not currently dreaming? Morpheus raises a similar question: Have you ever had a dream.html (32 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . and if it is correct.The Matrix as Metaphysics incorrect. Neo. If it models just my local environment.

what is crucial is that on the Chaos Hypothesis. In any of these cases. there is no causal explanation of our experiences at all. accepting this hypothesis would undercut all of our substantive beliefs about the external world. One might suggest that as long as a hypothesis involves some reasonable explanation for the regularities in our experience. the only clear case of a global skeptical hypothesis is the Chaos Hypothesis. they are exactly the sort of regular.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers. my experiences are not caused by any reality external to them at all. Instead. then it will not be a global skeptical http://whatisthematrix. there is some explanation for these regularities. though perhaps not the explanation that we expect.warnerbros. much more unlikely than anything considered above. Chaos Hypothesis: I do not receive inputs from anywhere in the world. I have random uncaused experiences. My experiences of external objects are caused by nothing. The Chaos Hypothesis is an extraordinarily unlikely hypothesis. It is just that some of them are constituted by my own cognitive processes. and the set of experiences associated with my conception of a given object will have no common source. even if it has miniscule probability. In all the previous cases. and there is no explanation for the regularities in our experience. we should say that the objects that I am currently perceiving really exist (although objects farther from home may not). So far.The Matrix as Metaphysics Evil Genius Hypothesis above. So this is a genuine skeptical hypothesis: if accepted. Where does the difference come from? Arguably.html (33 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] . do physical processes obtain in the external world? I think we should say that they do not. structured experiences with which I am familiar. Through a huge coincidence. If I am chaotically envatted. it would cause us to reject most of our beliefs about the external world. But it is still one that could in principle obtain. Unlike the previous hypothesis. Indeed.

) http://whatisthematrix. then if we are granted the assumption that there is some explanation for the regularities in our experience. This is not much.The Matrix as Metaphysics hypothesis.net (Some philosophical notes on this article can be found here.warnerbros. but it is something! David Chalmers David Chalmers' website: www.html (34 of 34) [4/8/2003 16:59:24] .consc. then it is safe to say that some of our beliefs about the external world are correct. If so.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_chalmers.

and making http://whatisthematrix. The Matrix raises many other interesting philosophical issues.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_driver2. that is. the ‘artificial’ intelligences. and ones that are worthy of further discussion. How do we know. However. I. rather than merely dreaming? How do we know that our thoughts are not being manipulated.Artificial Ethics The significance of The Matrix as a movie with deep philosophical overtones is well recognized. The second is the issue of whether or not one can do anything wrong in circumstances where one’s experiences are non-veridical. though still having certain dream-like experiences. particularly the dream argument and the evil genius scenario. which figure into the universe of The Matrix. The substance of that reality may differ dramatically from the substance we label ‘real’ — the ‘real’ world is the desert reality that Morpheus reveals to Neo. This essay explores some of the moral issues raised in The Matrix.html (1 of 10) [4/8/2003 16:59:55] . comparisons are made with Descartes’ Meditations. both of which are intended to generate skeptical doubt. Neo and his enlightened friends are dealing with actual sentient programs. The Moral Status of Programs There is a reality to the Matrix. and that our perceptions of ‘reality’ are accurate? The Matrix makes these doubts stand out vividly. The first is the issue of the moral status of the created beings. where one’s experiences fail to reflect reality. But it is clear that.warnerbros. for example. that we are awake now. out of the grip of the Matrix. Whenever the movie is discussed in philosophy classes.

than the lives of ‘naturally’ existing creatures such as ourselves. cognitive science holds the potential for challenging this certainty. Kicking a rock does not harm it. and no moral rights are violated. a rock has no moral standing whatsoever.html (2 of 10) [4/8/2003 16:59:55] .Artificial Ethics decisions that have actual effects for themselves as well as the machines and the programs. science — and particularly. their lives of less moral import. We know that killing human beings is wrong. our view of our dominant place in the moral universe has stayed fixed. also brings challenges to this worldview. The geographic point changed with Copernicus. It is a thought experiment which makes us ask the sort of ‘what if?’ question that leads to a change in self conception. Neo’s pursuer. or. For example. the moral status of the machines themselves? The universe of The Matrix is populated with beings that have been created — created by programmers or created by the machine universe itself. There seems to be an implicit view that their existence is less significant. These beings come into and go out of existence without comment on the part of whoever controls the switches — and without any moral debate on the part of the humans who also would like to see the agents destroyed. non-conscious object incapable of either http://whatisthematrix. are prime examples. An obvious explanation for this attitude is that humans are long accustomed to thinking of themselves as being at the center of the universe. Human beings are widely believed to have this standing in virtue of consciousness and sentience. It is an inanimate. It is wrong because human beings have moral standing. What The Matrix offers is a vivid thought experiment. And science fiction such as The Matrix. now. But. once again. for that matter. It forces us to see where our well accepted moral principles would take us within one possible world.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_driver2. What is the moral status of the sentient programs that populate the Matrix.warnerbros. However. The agents. which explores differing directions for these potentialities. such as Smith.

Of course. But any innocent creations of the machines — beings brought into existence to populate the Matrix — also would have moral rights. surely. after all. then. the end result would still be a person. Indeed. And. They can experience more varied and complex harms. of course. he is an agent of darkness. It would seem.warnerbros. however. Some people are the products of natural conception. as that program possessed the qualities we regard as morally relevant. Animals. that the fact that one is created.Artificial Ethics thought or sensation. no matter how that human being came into existence. are generally taken to have some moral standing in virtue of their sentience.html (3 of 10) [4/8/2003 16:59:55] . Just as it would be wrong to flip a switch and kill an innocent human being. then the world of The Matrix presents underappreciated moral complexities. If a person’s consciousness could somehow be transferred to a metallic or plastic robotic body. Neo has the right to defend himself — Smith is not. And.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_driver2. or artificial. while not very pleasant. moral rights. How one came into existence is not taken to be morally significant. Human beings have greater standing in virtue of their higher rational capacities. the substance from which someone is created is completely irrelevant to the issue of moral status. it would be wrong to flip a switch and kill a sentient program. and some are the result of conception in the laboratory. Agents such as Smith. As long. and a wider range of emotional responses – such as resentment – in virtue of their rationality. is in no way relevant to one’s moral standing. if this is the case. And this is where one of the primary issues raised by the possibility of artificial intelligence becomes important to the question at http://whatisthematrix. Kicking an animal for no compelling reason is generally taken to be immoral. would arguably have moral standing. This makes no difference to the possession of those qualities we take to be morally significant – consciousness and rationality. if the religious theme is pursued. an innocent.

Since a person’s conscious experiences are essentially private. The Matrix invites such a comparison when the agents display behavior consistent with the experience of certain psychological states.3 Given. to solve this problem by appeal to analogy: I do directly experience my own mental states — I know that I am a conscious. one cannot be directly aware of another’s experiences. I also know on the basis of observation that I am structurally similar to other human beings. it is important to see where this challenge can take us. when he forces Neo’s mouth shut. aware. While we don’t have much information about the machines themselves. of the responses we associate with consciousness and sentience.2 And. the cyber persons.1 Smith. being. then. at critical points they do display emotions: anger. and his colleagues seem remarkably without affect. Smith also displays extreme fear near the end of the movie. Thus.Artificial Ethics hand. and are not mere automata. The "how can I be sure?" question can extend beyond the agents to our fellow human beings. that they must experience mental states as well.warnerbros. if not all. their agents are on ample display. and surprise.html (4 of 10) [4/8/2003 16:59:55] .com/rl_cmp/new_phil_driver2. indeed. We might try. when Neo leaps through him. Yet. How can we be sure they do posses minds. that we believe what we are invited to believe it would follow that the sentient programs. fear. Do these programs possess consciousness? Since we are considering the world of The Matrix. albeit highly complex ones? Though the movie invites this reflection. do possess those qualities we http://whatisthematrix. let’s look at what evidence seems to exist in the movie. I reason by analogy. The agents display many. as St. Smith also displays a capacity for sadistic pleasure — at one point he displays this. Augustine suggested. of course. But this brings us to another skeptical challenge posed in The Matrix. They seem able to plan and to carry through on a plan.

The humans. Perhaps the machines view humans this way. would argue that moral qualms like these are a luxury. We are. II. Thus. has value in excess of its copies." The original Mona Lisa.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_driver2. but no moral standing since it is a mere painting. as well as Neo and his friends. but they may also have some antiquarian value. and I imagine that Smith and Smith’s creators. the machines have turned the tables. Indeed. But this kind of value is not moral value and does not reflect on the moral standing of the object. in viewing other rational life forms as simple instruments. To the machines. their moral standing is the same as that of human beings. They are making the same moral mistake humans apparently made in the context of The Matrix. both sides of the conflict seem to have displayed some moral blindness. certainly. It is possible that human beings have some additional value — a kind of antiquarian value. in using and destroying. If that’s the case. http://whatisthematrix. They have moral rights on the basis of consciousness and sentience and rationality. the value of humans is mainly instrumental. Humans are merely relics of a past they themselves helped to destroy. for example.warnerbros. to use and destroy as one wishes. in their subjection of the humans. so to speak.html (5 of 10) [4/8/2003 16:59:55] . or the moral significance of the lives themselves.Artificial Ethics associate with moral standing. it lacks consciousness. "the originals. But both sides view themselves as fighting for survival. They are valued as a source of energy. The Mona Lisa does have value. Manipulation and Immorality The world that the pre-enlightened Neo inhabits is one made up by machines. and the machines. It may be damaged. but not harmed in the way that humans and sentient creatures can be harmed.

since what they ‘do’ in the Matrix has consequences which are realized in the real world. Getting smashed by a truck in the Matrix kills the person in reality. Is simply making a choice to wear fur. the humans do have some control. to keep them happy and pacified and free of the knowledge that they are being used as a source of energy for the machines. he isn’t. as the steak example illustrates. Most humans believe that this world is real. in principle.html (6 of 10) [4/8/2003 16:59:55] . have relationships. morally? A competing view is that the http://whatisthematrix. The Matrix offers a ‘brain-in-a-vat’ experience. and at least seem to both create and destroy. understand the rules of the Matrix and learn to exert that control with full understanding. Instead. Suppose. There is no real or actual steak. Within this world they build lives for themselves. just for the sake of argument. even in this unenlightened state. To some extent this existence is dream like. eat lovely dinners. but they are mistaken.warnerbros. have no real or actual consequences in a world that exists independently of his or her mind. It isn’t real. enough to make one guilty of wrongdoing? Is it really only the thought that counts.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_driver2. there are many other ‘actions’ they perform that seem to have no effects in the real world. One issue raised by this is the extent to which they can be held responsible for their actions in the Matrix. that something like wearing fur is immoral. but one where the experiencer does have some control. the person is not actually eating a steak. the machines generate mental experiences which correspond to the experience of eating a steak. The human being’s actions.Artificial Ethics The machines have created a humdrum existence for humans. The pre-enlightened Neo and most of the humans living in the Matrix seem to be deluded.5 But.4 The enlightened can. along with the belief that one is wearing fur. but which are non-veridical – that is. When the unenlightened person thinks he’s eating a steak. in that respect. However.

this is because he or she is being mentally manipulated. But. though he may be confined to a mental hospital and treated for his insanity. and these.7 Even if the actions one performs in a dream have no actual good or bad consequences. they reveal truths about one’s emotional make-up. the Matrix isn’t a dream. Again. or. He is not punished. The unenlightened exist. as we’ve discussed. and the contents of dreams could reveal true virtue or vice. in turn are revealing of character. In the Matrix if fur is worn it is virtual fur. an insane person who fails to have a grip on reality. instead.html (7 of 10) [4/8/2003 16:59:55] . such as Henry David Thoreau.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_driver2. Such a person is generally held to not be morally responsible in those circumstances. actual consequences figure into this determination. then it would seem that they are not responsible for what they ‘do’ in the Matrix. actual good consequences in order for them to be considered to have acted rightly. in a state http://whatisthematrix. had the view that what we seemed to do in a dream reflected on our character. or whether. and not real — though the wearer does not realize this. and is deluded in this sense. If the persons who live in the Matrix are similarly deluded. since dreams themselves are not voluntary. But is this a genuine delusion? Certainly. the issue is that of whether or not the moral quality of a person’s actions — its rightness or wrongness — is determined solely by his or her subjective states.warnerbros. is thought to have diminished moral responsibility for what he or she does while deluded. Some writers have argued that one cannot be held responsible for what happens in a dream. So. The explanation is that the actions performed while insane are not truly voluntary.Artificial Ethics choices people make must result in actual bad consequences in order for them to be guilty of wrongdoing.6 Other writers. nor are the ‘actions’ one seems to perform in a dream. rather. and one’s inner desires.

But. or at least the realistic prospect of some actual bad consequences. but without relevant information. Neo believes what any rational. and this seems highly counterintuitive. that it is the person’s intentions which determine the moral quality of what he or she does.Artificial Ethics of psychological manipulation. for example. based on their manipulated experiences. then the intention to do something immoral along with the belief that one has so acted. is enough to make one guilty of moral wrongdoing. They act. If that’s true. it would then be the case that forming bad intentions in one’s dreams is also sufficient for immorality.html (8 of 10) [4/8/2003 16:59:55] . But even in the Matrix we can argue that they make voluntary choices. Instead. If we assume that the virtual world of the http://whatisthematrix.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_driver2. Immanuel Kant. The pre-enlightened are analogous to persons who make decisions based on lies that others have told them. when the dreamer decides to do something bad that decision doesn’t impact on the real world. reasonable person would believe under the circumstances. Some would argue that it’s simply "the thought that counts". But the Matrix is not really a dream. They are not like the insane. it seems more plausible that it must also be the case that there is some actual bad brought about. In a dream. again. is a good will – actual consequences are irrelevant to moral worth.warnerbros. The view I favor is that without actual bad effects the actions of those in the Matrix are not immoral. intrinsically. It’s that condition that Neo would like to rectify at the end of The Matrix. This seems to be clearly the case in a dream.8 However. is famous for having claimed that all that matters. and thus non-veridical ‘wrongdoing’ in the Matrix is not actual wrongdoing. The actions they seem to perform don’t always have the effects (in reality) that they have reason to expect. this claim is controversial. They are not irrational.

then the killer.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_driver2. And thus. though mistaken in thinking the dead animal ‘real’ has still produced bad effects in the form of genuine pain and suffering. if it does offer such a complete replication of the pre-machine reality. the issue becomes more complicated. but a virtual animal with all the right sorts of mental states — in this case. or caused any real harm to another sentient life form. It has its own objects. completely like the real world before the machines took over — then the virtual ‘harms’ are still real in that they are realizized in terms of actual unpleasant mental states. And the Matrix. The systematic deception of the humans doesn’t change this. its own people.html (9 of 10) [4/8/2003 16:59:55] . we may still make a negative evaluation of the person’s character. if the world of the Matrix is incomplete. However. Julia Driver Footnotes http://whatisthematrix. But my guess is that the Matrix is a complete alternate reality created in the image of the pre-machine reality. The virtual fur coat is the result then of a virtual animal getting killed. then no moral harm has been done. the action is immoral even though non-veridical. But note that Thoreau’s point still holds even though the Matrix is not exactly like a dream. If this is the case.warnerbros. pain and suffering. animals and … ethics. and the meat locker is the end of the line — and the acquisition of the steak does not involve the killing of a virtual animal with all the same psychology of pain and suffering a ‘real’ animal feels. That is — even if a person hasn’t actually done anything bad.Artificial Ethics Matrix is complete — that is. is truly a self-contained world. If Cypher’s virtual steak comes from a virtual meat locker.

by Robert Paul Wolf (NY: MacMillan. Again. But being in the Matrix she lacks true knowledge because she is deceived in the true manner of his death. I believe the sentient programs can be structurally similar if that’s understood functionally – their code has structure which provides functional equivalence to the physical states that underlie our mental states.6. See. 378-85. this line of reasoning is controversial since it relies on a single case analogy. trans. pp. are constantly being "Gettiered". Lewis White Beck. But the same points would hold for the machines themselves – if they have those qualities that are morally significant. 6. William Mann’s "Dreams of Immorality.html (10 of 10) [4/8/2003 16:59:55] .9). it is good only because of its willing. 7. 11-12) http://whatisthematrix.warnerbros. This also is controversial. because she has just ‘seen’ him smashed by a truck. and thus the machines may possess consciousness. Augustine. 2. but see Kant’s Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. Some would argue that while the sentient programs are not themselves structures.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_driver2. 1969): Nothing in the world — indeed. The issue of the moral status of the machines themselves should be kept distinct from the issue of the moral status of the sentient programs. A lot hinges on what we take to be ‘structurally similar’. 3. the machines are." Philosophy (1983). i. though the programs cannot. The Trinity (8. 4. (pp. But. consciousness and rationality. 5. Thoreau writes about this in A Week on the Concord and the Merrimack (1849). and critical essays ed. 8. However. it is good of itself. then they also possess moral standing.e. See Christopher Grau’s introductory essays on this site for more on dream skepticism and brain-in-a-vat skepticism. A woman may have justified true belief that her husband is dead..The unenlightened. on the other hand. for example. nothing even beyond the…world — can possibly be conceived which could be called good without qualification except a good will…The good will is not good because of what it effects or accomplishes or because of its adequacy to achieve some proposed end. this issue would be extremely controversial. St. simply because the movie provides more information about the behavior of these constructs. I will focus on the latter issue here in discussion.Artificial Ethics 1. and there isn’t enough time to delve into it more fully here.

Whoa! The Matrix provides a fine resource for illustrating philosophical ideas. For instance. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. He’d never have taken the path that eventually led him to his heroic http://whatisthematrix. The dream world Neo inhabited was a perfectly comfortable “reality”—except for the fact that it was not reality. No doubt. he’d have been returned to that humdrum dream world of vapid city dwellers. All of these films are intentionally philosophical.2 It mattered a great deal who did what freely.1 Life from inside it completely shielded one from what Morpheus aptly called “the desert of the real. A Clockwork Orange. Perhaps the best of these films is The Matrix.html (1 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . I. But The Matrix offers more than this. Many films have themes that one can philosophize about. it was important that Neo freely chose to take the red pill and not the blue pill.warnerbros. Had he taken the blue pill.” that desolated shell of a planet on which countless humans were unknowingly ensconced in slimy wombs. such as the wonderful films Sophie’s Choice or The Sheltering Sky.. Freedom is mentioned at various points in the film. Each shows how richly philosophical themes can be developed through cinema. But there are many other philosophical themes explored within The Matrix. It belongs in a special class of films including Blade Runner. and The Truman Show. Total Recall..com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. or that serve as useful illustrations of philosophical ideas.Neo's Freedom. the most striking philosophical theme found in The Matrix concerns skepticism about knowledge of an external world. One is the concept of freedom. Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Trinity reminded him. and. Neo freely decided to risk his life for Morpheus. all contained in their artificial wombs. led to nowhere special. At various other points Neo made choices freely. it was the quality of having made them freely that gave them the importance they had. He chose on his own not to get out and walk away down that street. By remaining in the car. During Cypher’s attempted mutiny. instead of fleeing when his own life was in danger. For instance. But it was not just Neo’s freedom that mattered. In fact. Whoa! defeat of the agents... as with taking the red pill. he freely embarked upon a path that would lead to an exciting future.Neo's Freedom. And he remained in the car when Trinity and Switch gave him the opportunity to bail. he did not regard his choice to take the red pill as free. Freedom also mattered a great deal when it was not possessed. Also.warnerbros. down that well worn path that. their http://whatisthematrix. Neo freely chose to resist the agents. he returned to save Morpheus from cranial meltdown at the hands of those treacherous agents in their zoot suits. he was of the opinion that he’d have had more freedom as a steak-eating. he was scammed. satiated participant in The Matrix. Neo freely followed the white rabbit that led him tumbling down that rabbit hole. and that left him at the end of the film entertaining the prospect of saving the human race. and so none could claim that they were in their dire straights undeservedly. In choosing to remain in the car. Trinity reminded him that all of Morpheus's rebels had freely chosen the red pill. Cypher regretted his choice. All the same. It seems that this was the case with those countless human drones.html (2 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . As Morpheus and company saw it (save for Cypher). He felt duped. As he saw it. to an exciting life. oblivious to the “truth” about the ugly shell that would have held him in perpetual slumber.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. Freedom was an issue for the others as well.

hated the smell of the humans. faster than any of the others. valued freedom. He felt trapped. But of course.. enslaved in the service of generating battery juice for those battery-powered A. They thought that the untrained neophyte Neo was just so fast. and on the sorts of challenges there might be to it. namely remain in the Matrix and deal with those pesky rebel infiltrators. meanies. Whoa! poor.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. Agent Smith. It appeared in the film that some had more freedom than others. As he confessed to Morpheus. all of this is to leave the concept of freedom unanalyzed.. He too was limited in his freedom since he was required to do something against his will. As any good student of philosophy is aware. “The One” is something like a divine savior. In the end. there are quite general skeptical challenges to (certain kinds of) freedom that might undermine the very idea that any agent is free in at least one important respect. and to take the claims of freedom within the film on face value. Their hope was that Neo was “The One”. working in cubicles all day—but victims all the same. and no doubt “The One” is one of those themes.html (3 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . Morpheus's crew was amazed watching Neo fight Morpheus for the first time. ignorant kin were victims. Agent Smith’s freedom was dramatically impaired by a liberated Neo. Let’s fix upon some further observations that will subsequently help us to bring into clear focus a few frequently unacknowledged but powerful points about the freedom of human agency. he hated having to be there. No doubt there are biblical themes throughout the film. Poor guy. blind to their lack of freedom—maybe even happy in their plodding little lives within the Matrix. A crucial feature of this savior is http://whatisthematrix. who had turned the tables and was now screwing with him.Neo's Freedom. Even the leader of the agents’ posse.I.warnerbros. a freedom many have called freedom of the will. Let’s defer for just a bit longer placing any theoretical structure on what freedom might be.

Whoa! that whoever could fill the bill would have more freedom within the Matrix than could any other rebel visitor to it. and operating with fantastic foresight about who would be where. Neo was the freest agent operating within the Matrix.warnerbros.Neo's Freedom.. These agents defied what seemed to be the laws of nature (as structured within the Matrix). Neo would have unlimited freedom. They took bullets and kept a tickin’. Morpheus. and fly… like Superman. But there are other comparisons as well that indicate different degrees of freedom within the Matrix.html (4 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . etc. their hope was that Neo’s freedom within the Matrix would be like that of God. stop bullets. at least until those closing moments of the film. http://whatisthematrix. the clueless were completely unfree. when. watching the TV. living in their homes. etc. Until near the film’s end. had more freedom within the Matrix than did Trinity. any other intentional being operating within the Matrix. he could beat the crap out of those battery-powered robot-demons. They had the run of the place.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna.. Cypher. At least as Morpheus and company saw it. But in those closing moments of the film. Neo. or any of the rest of Morpheus's gang (save for Morpheus himself). Neo had less freedom than did the agents. by the time he came to realize his true potential within it. taking on others’ bodies. and all of the rebels had more freedom within the Matrix than did all those clueless characters walking the streets. They could emerge unscathed after being slammed by speeding trains that would have crushed and destroyed any run of the mill putz living out his ordinary life within the Matrix. or for that matter. going to work. even when first getting acquainted with his abilities. including the agents. Indeed. The agents could simply move about satisfying most any desire they had. So it appeared that Neo. Hell. appearing whenever and wherever they wanted. and they could simply make a person’s mouth disappear at will.

Morpheus. Neo’s just a guy. and let us call the feature that seems to go with it the property of rocking. Trinity.warnerbros. is transformed in game mode to the most gifted being ever to play the relevant game—a pinball wizard. No doubt. Neo. of course. In the “real” world. The same. and the rest of the clan are just normally functioning human agents like you or me. and in amazement he appropriately expressed himself thusly: “Whoa!” II. The concept of absolute freedom and its presumed property of rocking will be further developed in the closing sections of this essay. as it is in the space ship with those nasty flying bugs out hunting down rebel ships on that desolated planet. forgetting about http://whatisthematrix. Neo ain’t got no distractions. let us first give some theoretical structure to the idea of freedom. or anyone else. But for now. impaired. So in The Matrix. Whoa! One more very important observation before we roll up our sleeves and do some philosophical work: The special sort of freedom that Neo seemed to possess in the film was a freedom confined to the Matrix. roughly.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. a guy who. Cypher. has any special freedom outside the Matrix. near the end of the film. as Neo comes to master the game. The film has given us no reason to believe that Neo.html (5 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . analogous to poor. he’s totally dialed in. applies to Morpheus and the other rebels whom Morpheus trained. can’t hear no buzzes or bells. when Neo first saw such amazing freedom exercised—when Morpheus leapt an incredible distance from one skyscraper to another—he judged that indeed such extreme freedom did rock. It’s gotta rock! Let us call this freedom that Neo possesses within the Matrix absolute freedom. In the Matrix. nobody Tommy in The Who’s rock opera Tommy. Presumably.Neo's Freedom.. always gets the replay and never tilts at all.. in the real world. that is. in the ultimate of video game consoles.

. their http://whatisthematrix. of developing intimate relationships of love and hate. But the absence of impediments is clearly not sufficient for the kind of freedom that mattered to Morpheus. A stupid dog can sometimes act unencumbered when. nor to what is valuable and distinctive of the human condition. and Rachael was an artificial replicant of a human being. with whom Decker fell in love. the stupid dog’s freedom is not the kind that makes philosophers. of fearing for.3 Both were capable of planning lives. and finding dear. The freedom worth talking about seems to be a freedom distinctive of persons. theologians. gets in the way of freedom. Regrettably. offering an account of personhood is beyond the scope of this essay. both were persons. No..com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. and company. those familiar with the movie Blade Runner can reflect upon the characters Decker and the replicant Rachael. Although Decker was a human being (maybe).warnerbros.html (6 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . she is unleashed—when she is set free. politicians. moralists. and there is no reason to assume that there is a single meaning of the term. Neo. all of the uses of the term do seem to share the feature that resistance of some sort. encumbering or impeding desired conduct. The term freedom is used in many contexts. But to appreciate what seems to mark persons from non-persons. And though free in a very basic way.Neo's Freedom. and let us consider briefly a classical philosophical challenge to it. we’ll turn back to the film and examine our natural reactions to it. reactions such as the many mentioned above. Whoa! absolute freedom. Typically. one is not free when she is frustrated in some manner from unencumbered pursuit of her desired course of action. or just your run of the mill high-minded folk get the warm fuzzies. Minimally. Once we have these issues in place. and this suggests that understanding the relevant notion of freedom first requires an understanding of what it is to be a person. for instance.

Less developed cognitive creatures were not persons. and no doubt. such as the primitive little A. or Data. machines that kept J. Trinity. whatever it comes to. E. Data from the Star Trek series and movies is a person. Neo. etc. for our purposes. that is. are all persons—though the agents. Morpheus. are non-human persons. emotional responses to others. is certainly a deeply important sort of freedom.Neo's Freedom.T. another is a matter of metaphysical freedom. nor Data is a human being. The nature of the political landscape is itself a matter of dispute. it is a sort of freedom that Morpheus was struggling to give back to the human race. Sebastian was another character in Blade Runner).F. etc? Political freedom. But the more immediate sort of freedom to which the film directs our attention is not political freedom. freedom of the will. as well as the agents. http://whatisthematrix.warnerbros.T. Whoa! own lives. So. Even restricting the term freedom to its applications to persons. At least this is how Morpheus and his comrades saw it. and the lives of other persons.T. Or to draw upon other clear illustrations of personhood from other sources in film. Does the landscape germane to political freedom include economic empowerment? Or does it merely involve what are often referred to as the civil liberties. Both had the capacity for abstract thought..com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. One is a matter of political freedom. such as the liberty to speak unthreatened from harm of prohibition. to organize as one wishes. like E. Political freedom concerns the freedom of persons to conduct themselves as they see fit within the political landscape. Sebastian company (J. there are at least two sorts that have been the focus of a great deal of philosophical attention for well over two millennia now. though neither E. from the classic Spielberg movie was a person. the latter being understood as freedom of the will.F.I.. self-consciousness. but metaphysical freedom.html (7 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] .

And while some theories of free will do attribute to persons the ability to perform 'very small' miracles whenever they act freely4. a chimpanzee—has a will. and any other physical factors impinging upon them. It does not entail anything contrary to the spirit of an inquiry such as Darwin’s. it is worth asking. and most notably free in the special way distinctive of a unique class of agents. A word of caution: The expression “metaphysical freedom” is often regarded derisively by theorists. http://whatisthematrix. intentional (that is.Neo's Freedom. such as a dog. The philosophical gem worthy of reflection is what makes a will free. it should be kept in mind that. those who are persons. any agent—that is. to be clear: the very mention of the notion of metaphysical freedom. It might turn out that free will involves no special miraculous features of agency at all. such as the view that metaphysical freedom provides persons with a capacity to transcend the material world. perhaps part of the essence or the nature of what it is to be a person. How to understand this freedom is up for grabs. on the other hand. all the expression metaphysical freedom need pick out is a distinctive feature of personhood—a feature unique to the will of a person. Hence. but it is natural to think of the will as the aspect of a creature’s mentality that is the source of voluntary. a cat. that metaphysical freedom is entirely consistent with a deflationary account of human persons according to which all human persons are entirely the products of their genetics.warnerbros. or freedom of the will. or by any constraints from the material world.. who fallaciously associate it only with extravagant views about the human condition. their environment.html (8 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . what is a will? This is also the subject of a great deal of dispute. So. any being that acts. Whoa! Before turning our attention to the topic of free will. does not entail anything mysterious. largely outside of philosophy.. goal-directed) action.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. or that of the neurobiologist. That said. to choose and act unlimited by the laws of nature.

. On a model such as this. unworldly. III. At various points in the film. Whoa! serious philosophical reflection might indicate that the concept of free will implies that a deflationary view of persons is false.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. that a person acts with freedom of the will only if there are alternative courses of action available to her at the time at which she acts. Instead Neo could have left Morpheus http://whatisthematrix. or freedom of will.html (9 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . so to speak. as when Neo chose to remain in the car and not bail when Trinity and Switch gave him the opportunity to do so. This is a lean definition that is not biased towards any one particular manner of philosophizing about free will.Neo's Freedom. Here is a theory-neutral characterization of free will: Free will is the ability of persons to control the future through their choices and actions. It is quite natural to assume. open up different temporal paths. or otherwise beyond the pale of what is in principle explicable in terms of our best natural sciences. allowing her access to different unfolding futures.. The crux of the issue concerns how best to articulate the ability to control the future.warnerbros. it is only a first pass and cries out for refinement. Of course. a person’s freedom of the will consists partly in her being in control of a spectrum of options that. Let us consider two ways to articulate further this characterization of free will. different ways that her life might go. This picture of freedom was also highlighted when Neo chose to return and fight the agents so as to save Morpheus. this picture of freedom was emphasized. that it involve anything spooky. But the crucial point here is that it is not part of the meaning of the very term metaphysical freedom. as many philosophers do. mysterious.

Whoa! to (what seemed to be) his inevitable demise. They are the ones bringing about certain events. They are sources of control over the future.. consider a paradigmatic case of an agent who lacks free will. When they do. They certainly were at points sources of http://whatisthematrix. But there are other strategies for understanding free will. and it unfolds in this way partially because what they do causes it to unfold in this way. in an important respect she—the agent—is the source of how the future does unfold. But she does take it all the same.html (10 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . This is because her addictive desire to take the drug is so strong that it compels her to take it even though she is unwilling in taking the drug. features that indicate that. The future does not unfold as she herself would like it to unfold.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. So one way to advance free will is in terms of alternative possibilities. in a very basic way. Hence. these normally functioning persons are guiding how the future unfolds when they act unencumbered. To illustrate. freely willed actions arise from certain salient features of an agent’s self. the future unfolds as they would like it to unfold. strategies that might or might not work in tandem with a demand for alternative possibilities. for example would not act with freedom of will when she takes the drug to which she is addicted. and not in terms of what other things she might do or might have done.warnerbros. sometimes properly functioning persons do act precisely as they wish (however “as they wish” might be understood). She does not desire that her desire for the drug cause her to take it. An unwilling addict. if all goes well. shaping the future in certain ways via their agency. Instead of focusing on alternative possibilities. another way to think about free will is in terms of what does happen. this manner of theorizing concentrates upon the source of an agent’s actions. On this approach. what an agent does do. For instance.Neo's Freedom. It should also be clear that Morpheus and Neo illustrated such views of freedom. On the other hand..

then there are two ways that one might further develop this idea of control over the future. are themselves sufficient to fix fully what that person does at any time. then no person has free will. roughly. some philosophers believe that if the universe is fully determined. However the concept of free will is developed. Much to the chagrin of the agents. What it means to suggest that the universe is determined is a distinct and controversial philosophical topic.html (11 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . etc. that the past. etc.).. for any person. chemistry.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. One is in terms of control over alternative possibilities. Crudely put. were making their marks inside and outside of the Matrix. IV. states of the world prior to her birth). In particular. A currently fashionable definition of determinism has it.. causally insures one unique future. combined with the laws governing the natural world (such as the laws of physics. combined with the laws of nature. what it means to causally insure. if we understand free will as a capacity of persons to control the future through their choices and actions. In summary. Whoa! “control” over how their futures were unfolding. are http://whatisthematrix. biology.warnerbros. an authentic shaper or causer of events in the world. Morpheus and Neo. states of the world independent of that person. or independent of features of her intentional agency (possibly.Neo's Freedom. there is a classical challenge to the very idea that any person possesses it. as well as the rest of the rebels. To appreciate fully this definition. Morpheus and his crew were sources of control over how certain events were unfolding. another is in terms of one’s very self being a source of how the future goes. But the general idea is basically captured with the suggestion that. one needs an account of what the past is (or the facts of it).

and if facts distinct from a person’s intentional agency. Suppose that the concept of free will is developed in terms of alternative possibilities. combined with the laws of nature.Neo's Freedom. not agents freely acting upon it! Turning to the two ways of developing the concept of free will suggested above. and others to act differently.warnerbros.html (12 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . the incompatibilists will argue that either way conflicts with the assumptions of a deterministic world. Persons are products of the universe. If determinism is true. then an agent is not free to do other than thus and so. She has no alternatives over which to exercise control. Persons are not at the helms of their lives. and it going that way. guiding their futures. so to speak. entail that an agent’s intentional conduct will be thus and so.. The universe leads some people to act in certain ways. at http://whatisthematrix.. does the person herself contribute something over and above these other factors that accounts for why she does what she does? Incompatibilists believe that if determinism is true. no one has free will. Her past and the forces of nature have settled for her what path into the future she will take. Whoa! persons and their conduct exhaustively explained in terms of their hereditary. and is it instead the case that these influences do not all by themselves explain exactly what a person does at any time? If not. their biology. Or suppose instead that the concept of free will is developed in terms of an agent’s being an actual source of how the world goes. is really controlling it. such as their neurobiological functioning. and persons and their conduct are merely conduits through which the forces of nature operate.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. No one can control her future since the universe. and the environmental influences impinging upon them? Put even more crudely. is all human conduct purely a matter of nature and nurture? Or is determinism false.

5 V. Some compatibilists. is not the source of her action. ultimately. http://whatisthematrix.Neo's Freedom. Yet another has to do with the status of those poor “enslaved” humans. in some meaningful sense. her preferences about what motivational states are the ones that she wishes to act upon. Sure. sometimes the future unfolds as she desires that it does. compatibilists maintain that persons can have free will even if determinism is true. then there are facts prior to any person’s birth. As initially puzzling as it seems.html (13 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] .com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. embracing a view of free will that requires alternative possibilities. her beliefs.warnerbros. but from the determined universe and the unfolding future that is an upshot of it. a facilitator. all of these factors are themselves not factors ultimately issuing from her. If determinism is true. combined with the laws of nature. Another is in terms of the Oracle’s ability to know the future. because of her. There are various ways in which the tension between compatibilism and incompatibilism is brought out in the film.. and sometimes her desires figure in the causes that explain why it does unfold as such.. the controller of an unfolding future. Other compatibilists have instead emphasized how an agent might. still count as a significant actual source of efficacy in the way the future comes about. for what has already been set in motion. One is in terms of reflections upon fate. that provide sufficient conditions for how the future will unfold. A person’s agency. But these very desires. value judgments. Whoa! least in part. She. via her own motivational states. have the ability to do other than what she does. have attempted to show that a determined person might still. seems to be nothing but a conduit. given determinism.

But on a different construal. Typically. another sates that a certain future will unfold precisely because of what does or will take place (which includes. then no matter what Lee Harvey Oswald did (including not assassinate anyone). To illustrate: If it was fated irrespective of what anyone did that Kennedy would be assassinated on the day he was.html (14 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . Given this usage. then it will come about no matter what one does. among other things.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. One account of fate states that a certain future will unfold no matter what any person does or will do. These two notions are extremely different. what it is for something to be fated is for it to be causally insured by prior conditions. Sometimes fate is used to mean what is also meant by determinism. Had he not done what he did. But if it was fated just in the sense of being determined that Kennedy was going to be assassinated. one’s agency is an idle factor.warnerbros. The standard example of this is the story of Oedipus.. Whoa! It is worth noting that within the film. ways that are easy to confuse. the term fate is used in two different sorts of ways. but upon reflection are clearly distinct. then Kennedy would not have been shot. then it mattered a great deal precisely what Oswald did.Neo's Freedom. philosophers reserve the term fatalism for http://whatisthematrix. A certain future will transpire irrespective of anything one might do.. On this view. as in ordinary discourse. Kennedy was going to be assassinated (by someone). This view is entirely consistent with one’s conduct being a crucial factor in what is causally insured. what people actually do). The gods were going to see to it that Oedipus met his terrible fate—killing his father and copulating with his mother—no matter what different things were done by any mortal to avoid that outcome. This certainly seems to be the primary manner in which it is used within the film. if some outcome is fated.

Morpheus asked Neo if he believed in fate.7 Perhaps what Neo found objectionable about fatalism was the thought that his agency in the world would have no effect on the world’s outcome at all—no matter what he did. remained ambiguous between the two notions distinguished above.. At points it was quite clear that his worry was in the form of alternative possibilities. at this point in the film.warnerbros.html (15 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . let us distinguish between no-matter-what-one-does fatalism and deterministic fatalism. Whoa! the former notion and determinism for the latter. Neo said that he did not since he did not like the idea that he did not control his life. that is how it seemed the enslaved humans lived within the Matrix. This is because. later in the film it is clear that Neo also wanted to resist deterministic fatalism. And indeed. she herself put those words in his mouth.6 When Neo and Morpheus first met. having no effect no matter what they did on their contribution to generating electricity for the A.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. He thought that it was up to him what that future would be—would he choose to save Morpheus or himself? But Neo also seemed to think in terms of source models of control: As he saw it.. then that would undermine one’s control with respect to the fated outcome. So Neo’s reply could have been in response to the suggestion that life was no-matter-what-one-does fated. what Morpheus meant by fate. http://whatisthematrix. He resisted the idea that the Oracle could know which of the possible futures before him would be his inevitable actual future. He was committed to the idea that deterministic fatalism would undermine his control over the world. meanies. But for purposes of analyzing the film. if one’s life is subject to no-matter-whatone-does fate. and what Neo took it to mean. But even if this is what Neo meant in that first conversation with Morpheus. it was not settled in advance how he would act.Neo's Freedom. he would be the settler of it! As the Oracle was bidding Neo farewell. Note that.I.

If so. deterministically fated history? Or did she instead. if she did make any judgments about what Neo needed to hear.warnerbros. they did of their own free will. hence the use of the blue and the red pills. then like Neo and Morpheus.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. foresee and understand Neo’s heroic efforts as deterministically fated.Neo's Freedom. was an incompatibilist. Neo had to be the actual source of that special person. Morpheus explained to Neo that it is not enough to know that you are The One. and not merely something he conceptually grasped. Whoa! Neo. mattered very much to that outcome. then she did believe that what he would do would matter to how the future would go. but freely willed all http://whatisthematrix. Surely.html (16 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . If Neo is the incompatibilist in the film. that all the human struggles to shape the future were unfree actions set in motion by a long. Suppose she did believe it. consistent with compatibilism. Morpheus is certainly the compatibilist. Morpheus tells Neo that the Oracle never intended to speak truthfully to Neo about what she foresaw. His advice to Neo was especially telling. (So he certainly did not endorse no-matter-what-one-does fatalism. He believed in his consultations with the Oracle that the future was deterministically fated. which was a matter of his actual conduct in the world. you have to be The One. But he also believed that what he did.) Even more importantly. Was she a compatibilist or an incompatibilist? Might she have believed. she probably at least entertained the idea that deterministic-fatalism was true. it seems. And what of the Oracle herself? To correct the impression that perhaps the Oracle is not really able to foresee the future... he believed that it mattered very much that what people did. She only intended to say to Neo what he needed to hear (which of course she knew since she was an Oracle). and what the others did. That is. that The One would come. But being an Oracle. consistent with incompatibilism. Thinking in terms of source control. she also did not believe in no-matter-what-one-does fate.

Then the incompatibilists will attempt to argue that a person determined by her past and the laws of nature is no different than a person manipulated in one of these wild scenarios. it seems irrelevant to ask about what they believe about their own free will and what they might think about fate. They are oblivious to what is taking place outside of the Matrix. Morpheus. Intuitively the examples are supposed to elicit the reaction that the manipulated person is not free because the source of her action is polluted.warnerbros.html (17 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] .8 The film leaves entirely open which interpretation of the Oracle’s beliefs is the correct one.Neo's Freedom. she interpreted them as freely willed and understood her powers to foresee future conduct as completely consistent with the falsity of determinism. If she believed this. Unlike characters like Neo. It is not she but something else that is the source of her agency. Much like the character Truman from the film The Truman Show. Of course. Incompatibilists are fond of challenging compatibilist notions of control with complicated manipulation cases. Whoa! the same? Suppose instead that the Oracle did not believe in deterministic fatalism. Perhaps she thought the universe was fundamentally indeterminate and that no facts of the past or present insured any particular way that the future must go. the status of the enslaved masses. these poor suckers stuck in those giant wombs are the ultimate illustrations of a very special sort of example used in the free will debate. Consider a very different matter.. Hence. The incompatibilists’ strategy is to cook up a very troubling scenario in which a person is manipulated into a manner of acting. and the Oracle. then how did she understand the basis of her own predictions? Maybe in foreseeing Neo’s actions. the only way that a person like you or me can be free is if she is not http://whatisthematrix..com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. what the incompatibilists try to do is make the sort of manipulation so subtle that it is indistinguishable from what ordinary life might be like for you or me.

that she then uses to decide how to act in the world. which is to say that she is not free at all. She is not truly the one engaging the world.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna.. One is to deny that the manipulated agents are unfree. When he first coaxed Neo. Note that this was Cypher’s view. he just wanted the damned steak to taste good! Other compatibilists try to show that there is some significant difference between a causally determined person and a manipulated one. In fact. If the causes are of the wrong sort. But this is not a problem since the manipulated person is a freely willing one. Whoa! determined.Neo's Freedom.warnerbros.. etc.9 Compatibilists have two ways in which they can respond to CNC cases. These manipulation cases have come to be known as covert non-constraining control (CNC) examples. then she is no more free than is a manipulated agent. then it really is no different than a person being determined. It is just that the causes of her actions are a lot weirder than the causes of a normally functioning person. for him the Matrix would afford him more freedom than what was available on that disgusting planet. Someone or something else is settling for her the values. and so long as the manipulation accurately replicates the normal functioning of a person getting through life. What did he care what caused his sensation of eating a juicy delicious steak? Real or illusory. was the basis for Morpheus's complaint about the Matrix. then she is in some way inauthentic. what Morpheus sought to convey was that human agency within the Matrix was defective.html (18 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . Typically the difference has to do with the history that explains why a person is caused to be as she is. principles. it seems. If she is determined. its causal source was designed to settle other goals or needs than http://whatisthematrix. This. prodding Neo and asking him if he too felt that something about his reality was not right. So long as the manipulation is complicated enough.

even compelling.. at least for certain ways of formulating the problem. All of the above reflections indicate the various ways that The Matrix openly struggles with the free will debate. even if. and dialectical stalemates would not have http://whatisthematrix.html (19 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] .. And there is no reason to think that this will change any time soon.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. It will likely remain so. But one point I would like to highlight about this controversy is that it would not have remained a controversial topic. Whoa! the ones that persons within the Matrix endorsed. they were not the source of the goals that their lives ultimately served. neither can rightly claim decisively to have unseated the legitimacy of the other side’s point of view. In fact. the debate between compatibilists and incompatibilists leads to dialectical stalemates.warnerbros. or whether instead there is some strategy that will be able to settle a reasoned disagreement that is over 2. they were “free” within their dream world to do certain things. I certainly do not know whether the free will problem is ultimately doomed to dialectical stalemate.10 A dialectical stalemate arises when opposing positions within a reasoned debate reach points at which each side’s arguments remain reasonable. and how ought it to be characterized? The philosophical controversy between compatibilists and incompatibilists is one of the perennial problems of philosophy. one of today’s most influential theorists about the controversy has suggested that. VI. But what view of free will is the correct one. One reason for this is that it is clearly not a “no-brainer”! Reasonable minds have differed as to the correct resolution to this problem. in a sense. but in which argument runs out.Neo's Freedom.500 years old. Their minds were thus enslaved and so.

as well as that of Morpheus's.Neo's Freedom.warnerbros. as the compatibilists allow. that. I say here “with notable exceptions” since there are clearly aspects of Neo’s agency. the film’s reflections on free will mirror the phenomenology of human agency. With notable exceptions. also in keeping with the incompatibilist position.. VII. in keeping with the incompatibilist position. One assumption of the free will debate. shared by all parties to it. and the A. Whoa! arisen from it. does not decisively provide evidence for any one position. the other rebels’. how life is experienced underdetermines the correct answer as to whether the compatibilists or the incompatibilists are correct about free will. and in a way that requires the falsity of determinism.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna.. whether it requires the falsity of determinism or not. the control required for free will is illusory. it is consistent with our experience that the control required for free will is satisfied. an agent’s free will does not consist in her ability to actually cause laws of nature to be false. Finally. It is neither a compatibilist-friendly. it is also consistent with our experience that we do possess free will and that we are determined. and how we experience the exercising of our agency. were it not for the fact that the phenomenology of human experience. It is to these differences that I would now like to turn in closing.html (20 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . as it is for the normally functioning person. As is the case in our actual lives. and that we are determined creatures. is that whatever kind of freedom an agent does possess. It is consistent with how we experience our lives. or to be suspended just in order to http://whatisthematrix. Or. To its credit. agents’ that most distinctly do not mirror the phenomenology of human agency. The Matrix does not pretend to endorse one point of view about free will. nor an incompatibilist-friendly film.I.

Now some philosophers might want to object here that there is a conceptual problem with describing any rules within the Matrix as both laws of nature and breakable. that is.. various writers have at one point or another articulated accounts of free will that later were scoffed at and quickly dismissed as fantastical or incoherent or ultimately contradictory. I shall therefore close with two observations about this extreme sort of fantastical freedom exercised within the Matrix.11 All of these criticisms of these extreme views of freedom might have been on the money. Whoa! bring about astounding miracles. essentially.Neo's Freedom. Morpheus even advised Neo to think of the rules of his dream world as mere conventions (rules of a program) that could be bent or just flat out broken. We all understand what a source of liberation it would be if all at once we could act unconstrained by them.. as agents in the world. in a very primitive way. Of course. Indeed. the sort of control that Neo came to have.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna.html (21 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . but the source of its cinematic appeal is that.warnerbros. we all know what it is to bump up against the boundaries of the causally possible. Neo’s freedom within the Matrix might seem completely outlandish. But to see where our dreams begin often helps us to appreciate both the limits and value of our actual lives. Of course. to a lesser extent. so too did Trinity and Morpheus. But within the Matrix. but no philosophical dismissal of the conceptual legitimacy of such a notion of freedom can itself discredit the sort of basis one might have for desiring it. But this would be splitting hairs at a point at which much more could be gained by reflecting instead upon the power of the thought experiment as it is played out within the film. In section one of this essay I indicated that the freedom of the agents within the Matrix came in degrees. this is the stuff that dreams are made of. http://whatisthematrix. merely the stuff of comic books. Within the history of philosophy.

” Imagine if all of one’s efforts in life were like this. pressing the boundaries of the limits placed upon her. pushing one’s skis down the steep tight line. leaping from a helicopter to save Morpheus. I propose that a life filled to the brim with absolute freedom would absolutely suck. one would no longer be prepared to exclaim. and that it rocked. http://whatisthematrix. nailing a turn on a cycle. How mundane all of this would have been had Neo then been able just to will all of the bullets to stop flying.Neo's Freedom.html (22 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . within the Matrix Neo possessed absolute freedom. or Morpheus to stop falling to earth. or cart-wheeling through a blaze of bullets and taking out all attackers. all of this involves the prospect of failure and the demands of an effort of will forced up against the boundaries of what one can do. He might as well have been yawning and reading a paper while defending himself: “Ho hum. Anyone who knows the joy of play understands this. But I propose that absolute freedom would not rock.warnerbros. and it does look as if it gives most everyone the warm fuzzies. Surprising as it might seem. Whoa! and that more of it appeared to be more appealing than less..com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. In fact. Contrast this with Neo’s intensity and enthusiasm when he still had to work hard to get what he wanted. it appears. Recall the look of utter indifference Neo had on his face when he realized how completely effortlessly he could block Agent Smith’s blows in that final face-off. But does absolute freedom rock? We all do value freedom. Taking the basketball to the hole. snagging a line drive. etc. and once had for a while. “Whoa!” This is because the property of rocking found in exercising one’s agency comes when one is pressing the boundaries of what she is capable of. I suggested that. when exercising it. by the film’s end. It would be boring as hell and almost entirely uneventful. Absolute freedom would require none of that. or crossing the finish line first with the beat of the pack just behind you. along with Neo..

Supposing that Neo could find a way to continue rocking from within the Matrix. Maybe. could he value it. like Cypher. Whoa! Here is a rich irony: Our hankering for absolute freedom. Because we bump up against our limits and sometimes fail. he’d lose all of his powers and have only a dark and barren planet to offer to his liberated human kin. It is yet a further credit to a film like The Matrix that it instigates such reflections on the value of freedom. But if we had that power in spades.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. could he take the Matrix seriously? Perhaps you think that Neo should remain within the Matrix where his powers are phenomenal. we yearn for the power to move beyond those limits. Even if. trying to do as much good for others as he can.html (23 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . a hankering of a dream world. acting as a god. he could bring such joy to others within it. seeing him not as a god-like liberator. I suggest that it is at least in part because it would be an inauthentic form of life. is something we wish for because we do not have it. Imagine the possibilities. or what I would do if I were he. do so much.. but as an evil demon dragging them from a relative dreamworld utopia into a real-life hell. Neo faces a fantastic choice. you think Neo would do better to remain within the Matrix. I’ll bet that you pause at the thought of it.warnerbros. If instead he attempted to destroy the Matrix.Neo's Freedom. a life that valued a certain kind http://whatisthematrix. A final speculation will also shed further light on the value we place on freedom. we’d lose all interest in the activities we find so dear. So it seems that the value of freedom and its place in our lives is partially a function of the manner in which we lack it. But if there is something wrong with this option. for these reasons. He could be so much in the dream world.. they would hate that world and thus resent Neo. have so much. But knowing what he does about the real world. I myself am unsure what Neo should do. Should he work to destroy the Matrix? His absolute freedom is so great within it.

I was completely incapable of the task. So was he. Whoa! of freedom at the expense of truth. Michael McKenna Endnotes 1. took me fishing. for a moment. We want to catch our own fish. It would be nice for a spell. and we want to catch real fish. if it is wrong. still hooked on a line. This claim is meant to be philosophically innocent. in a dream. I would speculate. Placing it back in the water. at the expense of real engagement with the actual world. simply taking “reality” as the films creators suggested it to be. For proper philosophical scrutiny of the notion of reality as it http://whatisthematrix. Would this not amount to placing too much value in freedom. each fish I caught. made as if it was tugging at my pole.Neo's Freedom.html (24 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . but holding onto the line. he’d never have wished for me a life of nothing but such shams.warnerbros. I caught only that way. and then helped me to “reel it in. To wish merely for an improved life for human kind only within the Matrix. When we want something else. each success of mine was only such a success. then its wrongness is partially explained by the fact that it is analogous to wishing for all human kind that all of their accomplishments be like Poppy’s tying that fish to the end of my pole.. we’ll go to the movies.. It was only years later that he told me how I came to snag that elusive trout. would it not amount to valuing freedom at the expense of other worthy elements of life? When I was a young boy my grandfather. even with lots of nifty freedom for everyone within it.” I was delighted. I wanted very much that day to catch a trout. But we humans want something more.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. Poppy. he walked it down to me. so Poppy caught one and took it upstream a little way. Suppose that the rest of my life. Even though Poppy was certainly happy with that little moment of mine.

This interpretation of the scene fits with Morpheus's subsequent description of how the human race was enslaved. I say that maybe Decker is a human being since there is some suggestion in the film that Decker might actually be a replicant and not a human being.Neo's Freedom. 5. their conduct is designed to do no more than generate battery juice for the “evolved” artificial intelligences.. (Chisholm. or whether free will is possible only if both alternative possibilities and actual source conditions are satisfied. ed.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. in articulating an account of free will. we cause certain events to happen. cited from Watson.65-71. Kane writes: We are all aware of …two ways to get others to do our bidding in everyday life. it seemed from the film that the level of control that the designers and controllers of the Matrix had over the humans operating within it was not a completely deterministically fated sort of control. In fact. but they http://whatisthematrix.warnerbros. etc. Skinner’s Walden Two.I. what did it matter to them what the humans did to each other in their dream worlds? 8. For example.. The A. . There is even a controversy amongst compatibilists as to whether or not only the latter notion of control is needed for free will. See Robert Kane. but really a sort better suited for no-matter-what-one-does fatalism. As long as ultimately the outcome was that human lives were lived in the service of creating energy for their artificial intelligence lives.. and nothing—or no one—causes us to cause those events to happen. the fictional founder of Skinner’s Walden Two. pp. The A. The puzzles here over the status of the Oracle’s foreknowledge are like those regarding the status of a foreknowing God. does that mean that. Frazier. I shall assume that my reader has seen the film and is familiar with the characters in it.html (25 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . 2. This is because people within the Matrix seemed able to do all sorts of different things within certain boundaries. which is constraining control or CC control. the philosopher Roderick Chisholm wrote: …if what I have been trying to say is true. or bullets to stop in mid air. 6. see the essay in this collection by David Chalmers. In doing what we do. 32. by virtue of God’s infallible nature. 1982) Caution should be taken with even this rather extreme view. creatures cared not a bit.F. planes fall from the sky. when we act. 1996. then we have a prerogative which some would attribute only to God: each of us. various events that took place. Or we may manipulate them into doing what we want while making them feel that they have made up their own minds and are acting “of their own free will”—which is covert nonconstraining or CNC control.I. 7. 3. Whoa! pertains to The Matrix. If God foreknows all human conduct. p. We may force them to do what we want by coercing or constraining them against their wills. 4. all human conduct is determined? Or is it possible for god to know exactly what any person does or will do even if nothing other than the person herself freely determines what she will do? 9. intelligences were happy to allow a certain level of social disharmony and chaos amongst the humans within the Matrix. since Chisholm was not claiming that the sorts of ‘miracles’ what would allow freely willing and uncaused persons to cause events would amount to miracles that could make walls melt. see Minority Report. the basic plot. gives a clear description of CNC control when he says that in his community persons can do whatever they want or choose. is a prime mover unmoved. Cases of CNC control in larger settings are provided by examples like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World or B. No matter what humans do within the Matrix itself. For a film that plays with these ideas.

every fact of the world.warnerbros. 1995. UK: Cambridge University Press.83-85. 1998. Fischer.) Suggestions for Further Reading Books Especially Accessible to an Introductory Audience Ekstrom. Saul. 1966. 10. forthcoming 2003. see the Berofsky collection.65). 1998. The Importance of What We Care About. Clarke. 1984. Hilary.. Smalinsky. Timothy. 2000. New York: Cambridge University Press. NJ: Princeton University Press. A Theory of Determinism. Robert. Randy. Paul. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1998. 1993. Frankfurt. Princeton. Kane. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. Derk. Free Will. Russell. Whoa! have been conditioned since childhood to want and choose only that they can have or do (p. Ishtiyaque. Freedom and Responsibility. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Daniel. as presented in his Being and Nothingness. Dennett. Boulder. Oxford: Oxford University Press. New York: Oxford University Press. Honderich. The Significance of Free Will. New York: Oxford University Press. Persons and Causes. Free Will and Illusion. 11. Ekstrom. Laura Waddell. Libertarian Accounts of Free Will. Bernard.html (26 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . 2000.. 1994. Freedom within Reason. Ted. CO: Westview Press. http://whatisthematrix. A classic example of this is Sartre’s notion of radical freedom. John Martin and Mark Ravizza. Freedom from Necessity. Pereboom. New York: Oxford University Press. 1995. 1990. Mele. The Metaphysics of Free Will. O’Connor. 2000. (For an excerpt of Sartre’s view. UK: Cambridge University Press. John Martin.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. Elbow Room. 1988. Oxford: Clarendon Press. MA: MIT Press. Haji. Susan. Scholarly Monographs Berofsky. Cambridge. Honderich. Fischer. Boulder. pp. 2000. How Free Are You? Oxford: Oxford University Press. Wolf. Laura Waddell. Bok. Oxford: Blackwell. 1994. Harry. Autonomous Agency. Freedom and Moral Sentiment. 1996. New York: Oxford University Press.Neo's Freedom. Responsibility and Control. Free Will. CO: Westview Press. Living Without Free Will. New York: Oxford University Press. 2001. Alfred. Cambridge. 1988. Moral Appraisability. Ted. John Martin Fischer. Cambridge. 1987. 174-195. which alleged that all persons have freedom with respect to every aspect of reality they confront.

2001.” In Watson (1982).. Pereboom. Whoa! Strawson. Watson. Perspectives on Moral Responsibility. Schoeman. New York: Oxford University Press. Edwards. eds. David and Michael McKenna. Galen. and the Emotions. ed. “Mechanism and Responsibility. Indianapolis. Agents. Responsibility and the Moral Sentiments.. Wolf. An Essay on Moral Responsibility. Especially Influential Articles A. Laura Waddell. Robert. Causes. eds. The Oxford Handbook of Free Will. Peter. ed. 1983. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ed. 1982. Freiderich... Ithaca. Anthologies Berofsky. Responsibility. 1989. Free Will.. and Events. Chisholm. “Human Freedom and the Self. Fischer.. Dennett.. Sidney.J. CO: Westview Press.. and Watson (1982). 1986. Honderich. van Inwagen. ed. MA: Harvard University Press. An Essay on Free Will. ed.. Determinism and Freedom. Keith. 1995. Jay. Agency and Responsibility. London: Collier. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Free Will. New York: Random House. Moral Responsibility. NJ: Rowman and Littlefield. Aldershot. Essays on Freedom of Action. Alternative Possibilities and Moral Responsibility. O’Connor. Gary. Widerker. Ted. 1990.html (27 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . Ayer. 2002. Boulder. 2002b. Kane. ed. 1958. Oxford: Blackwell. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Cambridge. Ithaca. John Martin.. Derk. Free Will and Determinism. 1994. Free Will. Timothy. “I Could Not Have Done Otherwise—So What?” In Kane (2002a). John Martin and Mark Ravizza. 1966. Lehrer. NY: Cornell University Press. Wallace. Totowa.Neo's Freedom. Freedom within Reason. Ekstrom. Michael. Oxford: Oxford University Press. IN: Hackett. R. “Freedom and Necessity. 1987. Susan. UK: Ashgate Press. and Kane (2002a) http://whatisthematrix. ed. Fischer.. 1966. 1993.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. “Hard and Soft Determinism. _____.. Freedom and Determinism. _____. Character. and Watson (1982). New York: Harper and Row. ed. Routledge & Kegan Paul. Zimmerman.. ed. 1997. ed. Roderick. 2002a.” In Pereboom (1997). Bernard.. ed.” In Pereboom (1997). Oxford: Oxford University Press.. Paul. Daniel..warnerbros. 1986. Freedom and Belief. Hook.” In Hook (1958). NY: Cornell University Press. London.

Kane (2002a). “Asymmetrical Freedom.Neo's Freedom.” In Fischer (1986). John Martin. Pereboom (1997). “Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility. “Responsibility and Control. Pereboom (1997). Watson. Kane (2002a)... see Kane (2002b).” In Kane (1993). _____.” In Kane (2002a). van Inwagen. and Schoemann (1987). Pereboom. Gary. _____. and Watson (1982). “Free Agency. Susan. _____. and Schoemann (1987). and Watson (1982). Strawson. “Determinism Al Dente.” In Fischer and Ravizza (1993). and Watson (1982). and Widerker and McKenna (2002). and Schoeman (1987).warnerbros. For an extensive bibliography. Pereboom (1997). Pereboom 1997).html (28 of 28) [4/8/2003 17:00:22] . Harry. “The Incompatibility of Free Will and Determinism. Whoa! Fischer. and Watson (1982). “Sanity and the Metaphysics of Responsibility.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_mckenna. “Freedom and Resentment.” In Fischer (1986). http://whatisthematrix.” In Fischer (1986).” In Fischer and Ravizza (1993).” In Fischer (1986). Peter.” In Pereboom (1997). Derk. “Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person. _____.” In Pereboom (1997).” In Fischer (1986). Wolf. “Responsibility and the Limits of Evil. Frankfurt. “Responsiveness and Moral Responsibility.

the freed prisoner would be the object of ridicule. They could not stand up on their own. always making people confused. and even their minds would refuse to accept what the senses eventually presented them. Elaborate steps are taken by unseen forces to supply and manipulate the content of the prisoner’s visual experience. Moreover. the cumulative effects of this imprisonment are so thorough that if freed. subterranean prison in which humans are bound by their necks to a single place from infancy.” –Socrates2 Imagine a dark. This is so effective that the prisoners do not recognize their imprisonment and are satisfied to live their lives in this way. Yet if returned to the prison. their eyes would be overloaded initially with sensory information. disbelief. This freed prisoner would understand those representations as imperfect—like pale copies of the full reality now grasped in the mind.” –Iris Murdoch1 “They say about me that I am the strangest person.html (1 of 20) [4/8/2003 17:00:46] . Introduction http://whatisthematrix. matters would be different. I. the prisoners would be virtually helpless.warnerbros. In time the prisoner would come to have genuine knowledge superior to the succession of representations that made up the whole of experience before. But if a prisoner was dragged out and compelled to understand the relationship between the prison and outside.Plato's Cave & The Matrix “Philosophy involves seeing the absolute oddity of what is familiar and trying to formulate really probing questions about it. and hostility. It is not unreasonable to expect that some prisoners would wish to remain imprisoned even after their minds grasped the horror of their condition.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_partridge.

Plato's Cave & The Matrix Viewers of The Matrix remember the moment in the film when Neo is released from his prison and made to grasp the truth of his life and the world. Apology 30a7-b4). convicted. The account above roughly captures that turning point in the 1999 film.E. Today the Republic is the most influential work by Plato. an upward journey from darkness into light: The release from the bonds. consisting as it does in testing the consistency of a person’s beliefs through a series of questions Socrates asks. and sentenced to death by drinking hemlock.C. then.). a turning or reorientation of one’s whole life.warnerbros. Yet it is not obvious how philosophical investigation improves the condition of the soul—still less how the Socratic method in particular does so.3 The allegory of the Cave gives literary shape to Socrates’ most fundamental concern. Plato (427-347 B. namely that our souls be in the best condition possible (Plato. and the allegory of the Cave the most famous part of the Republic. and yet it is drawn from an image crafted almost twenty-four hundred years ago by the Greek philosopher. the turning around from shadows to statues and the light of the fire and. that the allegory of the Cave is part of Plato’s http://whatisthematrix.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_partridge. and will show here. or that Socrates thought that the unexamined life is not worth living. If you know that Socrates was tried. conceived as a release from imprisonment.html (2 of 20) [4/8/2003 17:00:46] . you may also know that Socrates in the Republic likened the human condition to the state of prisoners bound in a cave seeing only shadows projected on the wall in front of them. the way up out of the cave to the sunlight…: [education] has the power to awaken the best part of the soul and lead it upward to the study of the best among the things that are. Socrates also believed he was commanded by the god Apollo to practice philosophy. Transcending this state is the aim of genuine education. I believe. it both animated and cost him his life.

Neo’s movements toward greater understanding nicely parallel the movements of the prisoner in the cave whose bonds are loosened. The Matrix and Plato’s Cave are faithful to a central tenet in Socrates’ philosophical http://whatisthematrix. cf. To see what I am calling a deeper connection between the film and the allegory of the Cave. especially in Part IV.5 Rereading the Cave after a recent viewing of the film shows that these are not throwaway remarks. The first paragraph of this essay reveals some of these connections. But there remains a deeper affinity between the two that I shall draw out here. but must get him to see for himself something that is difficult to recognize. to link Socrates’ persistent questioning to his unwavering aim at what he called the “care of the soul. in Part IV I examine the warnings and concessions Plato places in the dramatic spaces of Republic.4 In Part III I compare and contrast the film and the allegory.warnerbros. The Matrix dramatically conveys the view that ordinary appearances do not depict true reality and that gaining the truth changes one’s life. I begin in Part II by recounting the context in which the Cave appears and the philosophical positions it figuratively depicts. while Socrates himself confesses that the Cave is not exact (504b5. Finally. cannot show Neo what he most needs to see. there is a deep resonance between The Matrix and Plato’s thought in the Republic. after all.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_partridge. as one of Socrates’ friends says (515a4). Morpheus.” On this theme of care of the soul. In this way. The allegory of the Cave is a strange image.html (3 of 20) [4/8/2003 17:00:46] . focusing attention on the difficulty in sorting out deceptive sensory information. The surface similarities between the film and the allegory can run to a long catalog. The Matrix likewise privileges the work that strangeness and calculated vagueness do.Plato's Cave & The Matrix effort to make philosophical sense of Socrates’ philosophical life. 435c9-d2). Like the allegory of the Cave. having to do with Socrates’ notion of the care of the soul.

and wisdom is a special kind of knowledge: knowledge of the good. what makes “care of the soul” possible. Just persons have psychic health.Plato's Cave & The Matrix examinations: that proper teaching only occurs when students are prepared to make discoveries for themselves. It is the allegory of http://whatisthematrix. reason must rule the other parts of the soul.” After an elaborate effort that spans three of the ten books of the Republic.6 In order to impress upon us the importance of these questions. Specifically. Furthermore.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_partridge. Socrates and his two interlocutors discover what justice is. Socrates is made to investigate the concept of “justice. At the end of Book Four. there is one main gap in the argument: what is the precise role of reason. the “best part of the soul” mentioned in the passage above? There is little to go on at this stage. In order to prove this. the discovery that is most crucial is the discovery of oneself. Readiness for self-examination is.html (4 of 20) [4/8/2003 17:00:46] . after all.warnerbros. Plato glosses this idea memorably by calling such a soul healthy. Book Seven of the Republic begins with a startling image of our ignorance. Justice is shown to be a property of a soul in which its three parts do their proper work and refrain from doing the job of another part. it is to show that the life of the just person is intrinsically preferable to any other life. Only under the rule of reason is the soul’s harmonious arrangement secured and preserved. We know only that the soul in which reason does its job well is called wise. How are we to arrive at this knowledge? What is it like to possess it? What sort of thing is the good? The allegory of the Cave speaks to these questions. their personality is integrated in the proper way. Plato’s Cave If Plato’s Republic has a single unifying theme. II.

fixed in the same place. In the cave. I believe. a totalitarian government or the mass media struck mid. because their bonds prevent them from turning their heads around. cavelike dwelling.html (5 of 20) [4/8/2003 17:00:46] . made out of stone. Also behind them. Imagine that along this path a low wall has been built. with their necks and legs fettered.and late20th Century readers as an obvious parallel to the prisoners who move freely within the cave. “They are us. e8-9). carrying all kinds of artifacts that project above it—statues of people and other animals. but on higher ground. and some are silent.” Socrates says. as you’d expect.Plato's Cave & The Matrix the Cave: Imagine human beings living in an underground. after all. the prisoners can distinguish the different shadows and sounds (516c8-9. But this gets the aim of the cave wrong. (514a1-515a3) Many contemporary readers recoil at the awful politics of the Cave. Light is provided by a fire burning far above and behind them. Who. They’ve been there since childhood. with an entrance a long way up. Only then will we see exactly why ignorance is likened to imprisonment and alienation. To this extent they have some true beliefs. there is a path stretching between them and the fire. are the “puppeteers”? Why do they deceive their fellow cave-dwellers? Plato has so little to say about them that readers quickly imagine their own worst fears. And. and even discern the patterns in their presentation (516c9-10). cf. and this is what is truly sinister: an imprisonment that we do not recognize because we are our own prison-keepers. Let us turn to examine these prisoners and their imprisonment. which is both open to the light and as wide as the cave itself. . since it deflects attention away from the prisoners bound to the posts. like the screen in front of puppeteers above which they show their puppets . able to see only in front of them. But insofar as they believe that this two- http://whatisthematrix. . some of the carriers are talking. apply names to the shadows depicting things (cf. wood. specifically by examining the philosophical stakes of their ignorance.warnerbros. and every material.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_partridge. 515b45). Then also imagine that there are people along the wall.

the opinions they have do not explain why the shapes they see are as they are. In this case their cognitive grip on the chair would be more complete. Socrates’ search for the definition of justice here. or what he calls their “form. looks like an effort to get at these explanations.html (6 of 20) [4/8/2003 17:00:46] . small-scale. Without grasp of the form. at best. to grasp why things are the way they are and. To put it loosely. what underlying relationship they have to one another. when we possess knowledge of the form of a thing. Moreover.Plato's Cave & The Matrix dimensional. His questions are part of a search for the essence of things. we can give a comprehensive account of its essence. but a mistaken hold (if any) on the why of things. If they broke their bonds. we can have at best only true beliefs. but we lack a systematic. causal explanation of them. They do not know the source of the shadows. They would be able to recognize that the shadow was less real than the chair and that the chair is the cause of the shadow. A simple example should show what difference it makes to have knowledge of forms. we have. perhaps further. “There is a chair. Plato believes. We can distinguish different things. The possession of a few.8 Suppose someone in the cave carries a chair in front of the fire.warnerbros.”7 For Plato. nor do they know that the sounds are not produced by the shadows but rather by the unseen people moving the statues (515b7-9). http://whatisthematrix. they are mistaken.” They are partially correct. assorted true beliefs about the what of things. monochromatic play of images—and the echoes reverberating in the cave—is the whole of reality (515c1-2). they could turn to see the actual chair. and some of them remark. true beliefs characterizes the condition of all of us. The bound prisoners see the chair’s shadow on the cave wall. like his search for definitions in other Platonic dialogues.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_partridge.

The distinctive importance of the form of the good is indicated by two images that immediately precede the Cave: the Sun and the Line. the form of the good is what reason ought. knowing the form of the good contributes to your being a just person. After all. ideally. The Sun analogy (507a ff. gives the power to see to seers. One might think of the difference this way. Thus. while the form of the good gives the power to know to http://whatisthematrix. so too the intelligible world depends on the good-itself (508b13c2). The sun.warnerbros. This does not make sense at first. and I will consider them now. see note 7) is necessary for attaining the best intellectual grasp of anything that our intellects can know. to grasp objects as fully as possible.9 This is the force of the light metaphor. A shadow is better grasped when the object casting it is seen. Even to know fully the form of chair. Just as the natural world depends upon the sun (for warmth and light). the physically-real chair is explained in terms of its representation of the form of chair. Recall. one must know the form of the good. Plato holds. Plato would wish us to see that. to know. is doing its job (and this is what it means for you to be just). Now Plato suggests that grasping the form of the good or the gooditself (the terms are interchangeable.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_partridge. There is a curious complication on the horizon that I shall point out here. Furthermore. in a sense. for in knowing it you become wise. reason. ordinary objects are like mere shadows of forms. It turns out that knowing the form of a thing is not sufficient for gaining a final understanding of that thing. to have genuine knowledge of a thing it is necessary for our intellects to grasp its form. since one part of you.) reveals the special epistemological role played by the good-itself. as Plato puts it.html (7 of 20) [4/8/2003 17:00:46] . one must attain a grasp of its form.Plato's Cave & The Matrix Ultimately.

diminished or distorted copies of something more real. Imagine a vertical line dividing two realms—physical reality and intelligible reality—into unequal spaces. the form of chair relies on the form of the good for its intelligibility. But the fire is nothing more than a “source of light that is itself a shadow in relation to the sun” (532c2-3). The fire. Out of the cave the sun represents the good-itself. is a condition for our acquiring a more complete true belief about the shadow. shadows—pale. bottom portion of the line.. it is only in virtue of the light produced by the fire above and behind the prisoners that the chair and its shadow are visible. reflections in water. and artistic depictions). Plato is not finished with his specification of the role played by the form of the good. the most obscure of the three images. we find the physical realm divided between actual. And so too the Line presses us to think that the physically real objects perceived by our senses are. this is the distinction made between the chair and its shadow. and in this way.html (8 of 20) [4/8/2003 17:00:46] . The good-itself illuminates the true. Each realm is then subdivided in the same uneven proportion as that which separates the physical and intelligible world. shadows. In the Cave. For this unusual idea we have some help from the Line image (509d ff). To take only the smaller. The good-itself is the most preeminent item in the universe. It is both an object of knowledge and the condition of fully knowing other objects of knowledge.Plato's Cave & The Matrix knowers (508e1-3). He goes on to suggest that the good-itself nourishes the being of intelligible things in a way analogous to the sun nourishing organic life. in effect.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_partridge.g.warnerbros. physically-existing items and their ephemeral copies (e. then. intelligible world of ultimate reality. http://whatisthematrix. In our example of the chair.

there is one more feature of the good-itself that deserves attention. and it has a remarkable effect on those who grasp it. Whatever exactly the form of the good is. nourished by their corresponding forms. and since the form of the good is the most real item in all of reality.html (9 of 20) [4/8/2003 17:00:46] . its citizens. One clear implication of the Line is the metaphor of ascent. just above the forms. the more real the items become. This is what it is to be ignorant of the truth. acts as a craftsman (cf.Plato's Cave & The Matrix The Line offers a ranked order of Plato’s ontology according to which the degrees of reality and being of a particular class of things increases as you go up the line. and themselves in order. 500d6). “once they’ve seen the good-itself. The Cave exploits it as well: the upward escape from the cave represents the difficulty of gaining ever more abstract knowledge while not relying on information gathered by the senses. But to see why our alienation from what is genuinely good makes a difference in our lives. or a “painter using a divine model (paradeigmati)” (500e3-4). By connecting the three images together we discover that the human condition is abject: we see only the most downgraded forms of reality (image. Not only do physical things http://whatisthematrix. using it as their model (paradeigmati)” (540a8-b1). This was anticipated in a longer passage in which the philosopher. Things lower on the line are derivative and owe whatever reality or being that they have to the things above them. As Socrates says of fully-educated philosophers near the end of Book Seven.warnerbros. it is located at the very top of the Line. The higher up the scale.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_partridge. by means of studying the “things that are” (500b9). they must each in turn put the city. on the perfect. shadows) and are as far from the sun (the good-itself) as we can be. Physical objects are. it serves as a paradigm or model. not just their knowability. They depend for their very reality. metaphorically. eternal Forms existing in the intelligible realm.

warnerbros. Thus. would have returned thunderous laughter: Until philosophers rule as kings or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophize. The world inside the cave is a diminished one. our speaking and thinking in the cave is not meaningless. nor. and metaphysical reality. in spite of our ignorance of the deeper causes of things. but broadly continuous with the true world. one becomes productive. method. on Plato’s view the sensible is somehow derived from the intelligible. http://whatisthematrix. and some of our opinions are true.11 Those who gain knowledge of the good-itself are capable of crafting virtues in their souls and in the souls of others. and they can paint divine constitutions for cities. Glaucon. properly proportioned. (473c11-d6) III. This is what enables Plato to put words into Socrates’ mouth that. will the human race. Finally. well ordered. until political power and philosophy entirely coincide . .com/rl_cmp/new_phil_partridge. that is. a shadow or reflection of the real. Plato’s Cave and The Matrix There are no forms in The Matrix. Even though there is a marked difference between the sensible and intelligible realms viz. I think. for Plato. healthy. and the self is transformed.html (10 of 20) [4/8/2003 17:00:46] . and thus our epistemic and metaphysical circumstances in Plato’s Republic look very different from those in the film. epistemic certainty. once this knowledge is acquired. so too we can take on goodness through intellectual contact with the good-itself. were he on Aristophanes’ stage.Plato's Cave & The Matrix take on the qualities they have through a process of copying. Reason’s rule affords the soul the opportunity to study and therein to become like the good-itself.10 By coming to understand the good-itself. that is. we become good. We can see now why being just depends on knowing the form of the good. reflecting or imitating the forms. we become like it. . cities will have no rest from evils. In short.

com/rl_cmp/new_phil_partridge.Plato's Cave & The Matrix In The Matrix. the real world in The Matrix is very like the world inside the cave. a skeptical worry remains in the wake: how can he ever be sure his sensory information is truthful if there is no certificate of authenticity on his experiences? Suppose Agent Smith creates a program that launches right when Neo picks up a phone within the Matrix. there is at least one continuity between the real world and the computer-simulated world: your body. The real world is profoundly dystopian. the two worlds are far less continuous with one another.) Since the real world and the simulated world are worlds in which the senses receive information. This is part of the initial difficulty for Neo since he cannot determine which sensory information is genuine and which false. Owing to an unexplained principle. worse. (Ironically.) In spite of its realism. Neo’s consciousness is supplied with a computer-generated experience of the interior of the Nebuchadnezzar. called “residual body memory. Instead of being whisked back aboard the ship.” your body looks the same to you and to others in both worlds. the practical problem is not that they are discontinuous. but that they are indiscernible. (This means that Cypher will have to have his memories of the time spent outside the Matrix removed if he is to return to the illusion of reality inside the Matrix. and the substance of lives inside the Matrix is supplied in mental states almost entirely cut off from this reality.html (11 of 20) [4/8/2003 17:00:46] . the world inside the Matrix is not a copy of the real world but is a simulation. Nevertheless. and of course he believes he has successfully exited the Matrix. Such a trick might enable Agent Smith to obtain compromising information about the Nebuchadnezzar and its crew or.warnerbros. by contrast. http://whatisthematrix. Although he (and the viewer) settles this question soon enough. And you are able to retain your memories of one world when you are in the other and when you return back to the first.

It is hard to imagine how Neo might see past Agent Smith’s ruse. stepped almost entirely out of that very world itself. our awareness of this mutability should assist us in determining which of our beliefs were relatively more reliable. it seems. This is. not the sensible world itself. Plato urges us to regard the sensible world as unreliable. especially if he only had a few moments to figure things out. rather. the only advantage the freed prisoner might have is slight: a general unease about all sensory information. however. Since the ordinary world is too murky and everchanging to permit genuine knowledge of it. appear in two places at once. you would be an expert in discriminating items in the sensible world (cf. but his destruction of one of the Agents. sensible world is copied.Plato's Cave & The Matrix the passwords for Zion. no matter the source of our information about it. and his ability to fly. Would Plato’s freed prisoner fair better? Recall. we find Neo at the end of the film doing more than simply bending the laws of physics with the Matrix. He does not. http://whatisthematrix.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_partridge. you would simply be the best sensible world discriminator there could be.html (12 of 20) [4/8/2003 17:00:46] . not nearly as simple as it sounds. what we are to grasp is the intelligible world from which our ordinary. The reward is that once you grasp the forms in the intelligible world. in the case where Agent Smith launches his deceptive program.12 We must adopt a different method for apprehending the truth of things. 520c1-6). Therefore. In fact. of course. nor is it obviously helpful. however. suggest that the laws of physics are more than merely bent. He has. This doesn’t mean you’d never be mistaken. after all.warnerbros. It seems that the metaphysical differences between Plato and The Matrix do not prevent them from telling a roughly similar story about the epistemological unreliability of the senses and the need to abstract from the senses in order to gain genuine knowledge.

but the parts of yourself that are peculiar to you. there is a single item the knowledge of which makes the knower more integrated and more powerful.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_partridge. and must take steps to disregard knowledge derived from the senses. and for Neo it is self-knowledge. what knowledge Neo attains that operates in him like the knowledge of the Platonic form of the good. For Neo’s enlightenment is ultimately about his own specific path and role.html (13 of 20) [4/8/2003 17:00:46] .Plato's Cave & The Matrix Where Plato’s dialogue and The Matrix agree most is in drawing out the enormous psychological difficulty in calling the world into question and the ethical dimensions of failing to do so. Neo and Plato’s freed prisoner must accept truths about themselves (namely. This is the point to ask. it might seem that release involves getting the right http://whatisthematrix. Both then undertake an introspective turn to discover the truth. Ought we to see Neo as adhering to the letter of Socratic self-examination and care of the soul? Only at high-altitude will a perfect connection be visible. that their lives have been unreal) before they can acquire deeper knowledge about fundamental truths.warnerbros. both Neo and the freed prisoner need the shocking demonstration that the senses are inadequate and that they can be systematically deceived. finally. In both The Matrix and in the Cave. that make up your individuality. to be a savior of himself and others? It is nothing more than proper selfunderstanding. What does Neo know only after great difficulty but whose truth is fundamental? What object is grasped by Neo’s intellect that he understands to be the condition of his knowing anything else? What knowledge enables him to be productive. To achieve this.13 Since the prisoners in the cave have only dim self-awareness (they see only the shadows of themselves [515a5-8]). Socratic care of the soul involves self-knowledge. are not relevant.

that he is the One). rather they are truths that are in you. Socratic Education in the Cave and The Matrix To see to what extent this is so.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_partridge. I want now to return to a remark by Socrates’ friend. In other dialogues Socrates was made to endorse the idea that knowledge was in you. .warnerbros. This result is produced neither by the method nor the aim of Socratic care of the soul. And when he believes in himself at last. act as a kind of Socratic teacher. yet as it hooks them. his capabilities are further enhanced. that the cave and its prisoners are “strange” (atopon .Plato's Cave & The Matrix beliefs about oneself. Glaucon. urging Neo toward self-understanding and care for his soul? IV. atopous. The allegory of the Cave puzzles Socrates’ audience. Might Morpheus be doing the same? Might Morpheus. But the very abstractness of the knowledge that Plato prizes. Both hold that in teaching the most basic truths. But these are not truths that are about you. there is an important role for a strategic strangeness and the confusion it produces.html (14 of 20) [4/8/2003 17:00:46] . the film and the allegory share a pedagogical conceit. The truths he must grasp are both in him and about him. the Cave provides only the outline for solving the puzzle. suggests that the self-knowledge the prisoners need is neither the end of their search nor even the proper beginning. Neo’s case is different. which is very unlike the specificity of the knowledge that Neo eventually gets (namely. The remark is important because it indicates that the image http://whatisthematrix. The film reveals furthermore how he must demonstrate and experience his capabilities before he is able to believe entirely that he possesses them. that a kind of introspection aided by proper questioning could elicit true beliefs. Most fundamentally. [515a4]). like the allegory. .

Neo receives strange communications via computer (“wake up.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_partridge. Neo’s early encounters with Morpheus produce the same kind of confusion that Socrates produces in his interlocutors. These odd messages disrupt Neo’s expectations of the world. Plato retains the openness of his allegory. as is the release. But it can also occur when he professes ignorance. Yet. something being out of place (atopia). This drug quickly begins to alter his perception of the stability of the world inside the Matrix. for it is Morpheus who frees Neo.html (15 of 20) [4/8/2003 17:00:46] .”16) to follow the white rabbit he soon sees on a tattooed shoulder. one that Plato elsewhere gives us reason to believe is significant. This surely prepares Neo to http://whatisthematrix. or when he is silent. and Morpheus chooses to free him because there is something particular about Neo that recommends his release. especially his need for control over his life and his facility with computers. while the pill calls into question his grasp of what is now happening. it gives answers to the question above. Plato’s allegory of the Cave describes what our ignorance is like in stark images and what it would be like to become educated. Pressing for specific details is to demand too much of the image. it appears the The Matrix departs from the allegory. Prompting someone to recognize strangeness. is how the Socratic method achieves one of its aims. This can occur when Socrates asks one of his deceptively simple questions. the imprisonment is metaphorical. Another disruption comes when Neo swallows the red pill. on closer inspection.Plato's Cave & The Matrix is operating on its audience in a particular way.17 Taken together. the computer messages uncannily anticipate what is about to happen. it says nothing about what starts the process of becoming educated.warnerbros. Neo. By refusing to say precisely how this prisoner is freed. First of all.14 Of course.15 What are we to say about The Matrix? On the surface. Similarly.

Plato's Cave & The Matrix accept the truth that everything that has already happened is an illusion. there are features of Neo’s life that might explain how he begins to see the falsity of the world inside the Matrix. Neo proves to be a particularly apt pupil. Similarly. Plato draws the reader to think for him or herself in the same way that Socrates wished his interlocutors to feel the sting of the realization of their ignorance as http://whatisthematrix. Indeed. one of the themes of the film is Neo’s struggle to accept his role as the One. Neo is an accomplished hacker who would have the best chance of anyone to discover that the whole of his experience is itself nothing more than highly-sophisticated computer code.html (16 of 20) [4/8/2003 17:00:46] . stinging Neo to take the first steps he needs in order to discover the truth on his own. Morpheus can be seen as a Socratic gadfly. He only accepts his true nature well after the series of strange clues Morpheus presents to him and the confusion this produces in him. In this way. Maybe playing the role of an office worker affords him a sense of the absurd that makes it easier to believe that his life is hollow. the savior of humanity.warnerbros. If we suppose that Morpheus asks the right questions. he is the only person whose prophecy does not refer to someone other than himself.18 In fact. it is still the case that Neo has to recognize the questions and accept the drugs. Insomnia might work for this purpose as well. He works as a software engineer perhaps to maintain a steady income. and supplies the right drugs.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_partridge. Besides. who hasn’t had the gut feeling Neo has that “there is something wrong with the world”? Of course. Ultimately. perhaps as cover for his underground activities. he must experience first-hand his fitness for the special role that the others urge him to perform. Plato’s sketch of the role played by the form of the good only points the way to the complete answer that Plato would have us seek out. He is the subject of a number of prophecies made by the Oracle. In this way. He is also living a double life.

each discipline involves abstraction from the senses. but this is true largely because other assumptions normally accompany the identification of Socrates’ utterances with Plato’s considered philosophical views. Plato. and he does not speak there). 1998). which is also found in Cooper (1997). For example. The translation I cite here is by Grube/Reeve (1992). 4. more is at stake in the first case than getting a drink order wrong.html (17 of 20) [4/8/2003 17:00:46] . Plato’s pessimism about the human condition gives way to an optimistic view of the power of education to liberate anyone: Education isn’t what some people declare it to be. failing even to ask the right questions? These are precisely the questions Morpheus puts to Neo. When properly pursued. . Republic 532b6-8. Stephanus pages may be found along the vertical margins of most translations of the Republic. 1978). 2. Education takes for granted that sight is there but that it isn’t turned the right way or where it ought to look. Theaetetus 149a8-9. dialectic. in the manner of his fictional agent? Of course.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_partridge. and harmony. section d. not stirred. The allegory of the Cave issues a pointed challenge: in what way are we living lives of diminished prospect.Plato's Cave & The Matrix a motivation to join him in inquiry and care of the soul. Hereafter I include citations to the “Stephanus pages” of the Republic in the text. Originally published in Magee. What I have dubbed “education” in the brackets is specifically the study of mathematics. astronomy. “Literature and Philosophy: A Conversation with Bryan Magee” in Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature (New York: Penguin. resting content with our knowledge. and it tries to redirect it appropriately. Plato.warnerbros. putting knowledge into souls that lack it. These disciplines prepare our minds for the most important discipline. though this scholarly convention is under attack in some quarters. 3. I shall refer to the philosophical positions advocated by the character Socrates as Plato’s. geometry. Thus some scholars find it presumptuous to fob off the character Socrates’ views onto Plato. like putting sight into blind eyes . d5-7) John Partridge Endnotes 1. and is “really fitted in every way to draw one towards being” (523a2-3). on line 6 of the Oxford Classical Text. And like Morpheus. . One worry is http://whatisthematrix. would we automatically assume that Ian Fleming took his martini shaken. 8. Plato never appears in the Republic or any other dialogue (save for the Apology. “527d6-e3” refers to a passage beginning on Stephanus page 527. c3-6. Plato’s term for the right kind of philosophical examination. namely. (518b7-c2. Men of Ideas (Oxford: Oxford University Press.

c9-d2). 506c2-3. arguing against pleasure and knowledge as candidates for a substantive account of goodness itself (505b5-d1). 169). and in my opinion will always be. See 507b5-7. he seems capable of saying more than he says here. 508e2-3). Or do you think that someone can consort with things he admires without imitating them? . 507b5) or form of the good (505a2. he imitates them and tries to become as like them as he can. . 294). plausible philosophical interpretation of the images in the Republic.Plato's Cave & The Matrix that this identification narrows the range of answers we might give to the question why Plato wrote dialogues. Ordinary language is the first word here. . 504d8-e3). much debated” (Adam [1902]. warning us that his talk about the good is schematic (504d6-8) and fuzzy (cf. Much ink has been spilled in the effort to provide a consistent. Socrates disclaims precision. saying it is the chief or ultimate end to all our actions (cf.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_partridge. 143) as “over-ambitious” and “overloaded” (Annas [1981]. Then the philosopher. a shortcut to the truth of things (cf. but the only ones there really are are those needed by dialectical-thought for its explanatory and reconstructive purposes. Given his lack of knowledge about the good (505a4-6. (The types of study that yield knowledge of items in or aspects of the intelligible world are mentioned in note 3 above. the most Socrates can do is provide stories. He also knows that knowledge of the good is important to have (505a6-b4). rationally defensible account. And with this premise. Some refer to “the treacherous analogies and parables” (Cooper [1977]. he provides a formal account of the good. This item is really what reason is attempting to grasp. variously. d6-8). not what is good for me. The essence of good things is called. 6. by consorting with what is ordered and divine . . 5. “Assumptions are one thing. 256). but something that is good in and of itself. http://whatisthematrix. being all in rational order. 252. Moreover. Thus forms are assumed with ontological abandon. 9. the good-itself (506d8-e1. Another worry is that it may distort our understanding of what Plato took an adequate philosophical theory to be. Contemporary readers generally agree with Socrates.: “Every soul pursues the good and does whatever it does for its sake” 505d11-e1). even what Plato meant by the forms “is a question which has been. at least. Reeve’s comment (on whether there is a form in the intelligible world for every group of things in the sensible world to which a single name applies) is useful for the general question of how many or what sort of forms there are. as he looks at and studies things that are organized and always the same. Socrates’ disavowal of knowledge does not mean that he is completely ignorant. and we cannot be certain that Plato thought there was a form of chair. A list would include mathematical or logical truths and geometrical items. 8. and what method must be used to get it: dialectic (532a1-d1). he rules out rival attempts to spell out the formal account. not reasoned accounts. I say “speaks to” because the Cave is only part of a generally sketchy account of the nature of the good. himself becomes as divine and ordered as a human being can” (500c2-7. truths are another. Finally. though we cannot be sure that he takes himself to be able to give something more secure than images and other “offspring” (cf. 504b1-4. that neither do injustice to one another nor suffer it. is the stated rationale for why he gives “the child and offspring of the good” (507a3-4) rather than a fully articulated. 265. . but it is not by any means the last word” (1988. It is notoriously difficult to count the population of forms. “Instead. 435d2).) 10.html (18 of 20) [4/8/2003 17:00:46] . as well as the vaunted forms. The intelligible world is Plato’s way of referring to the class of things that can be known by the mind alone and that are imperceptible to the senses. Will there be a last word? According to one commentator writing at the beginning of the last century. 7.warnerbros. Most obviously. This. 506e1-3). nor what is ‘a good x’. he knows enough to know that he does not know.

it is not unreasonable to expect an account of precisely what sort of prisoner it is who begins to question whether the cave contains the whole of reality. 257-59. 11. Cooper has argued that we think of the good-itself “somehow or other as a perfect example of rational order. the prisoner’s chains are removed but Socrates is silent on who or what removes them. and it may be Morpheus’ hope that Neo reflects on the figurative meaning as well. Given this detail. Neo’s reluctance to believe that he is not in control of his actions requires that the Oracle tell him something false. geometry. if we wish for specifics. the freed prisoner is referred to generically by the indefinite pronoun “someone” (tis). astronomy. we miss the generality that Plato intends. Plato’s Symposium famously stresses the fertility of the philosopher who has grasped the forms (212a-b). knock. one of the other messages that appears on his screen—“knock. that Neo must see for himself in order to understand.” Second. or the view that the good-itself has occult qualities.” namely that he is not the One. Moreover. 18. makes this point when she compares Plato’s allegory to Bertolucci’s 1970 film. for his point surely is that anyone could escape the bonds of ignorance. After all. The film surely intends us to read the figurative sense of this expression alongside the literal one. When one of them was freed and suddenly compelled to stand up. Plato remarks on the difficulties that the freed prisoner meets with on the way out of the cave. it is eminently believable that he is not their long-awaited savior. then. this kind of talk encourages mysticism. This Neo is happy to hear. only those that have the wrong source. Throughout. The Cave depicts an astonishingly thorough imprisonment. Socrates does not hear the oracle directly but relies on Chaerephon’s report that “no one is wiser than Socrates. walk. 12. Works Cited / Suggestions for Further Reading http://whatisthematrix. what being released from their bonds and cured of their ignorance would naturally be like. 15. But we do well to remind ourselves that dialectic is the only route to grasping the good-itself. it is intellectual grasp—not oneness with or absorption into the good—that we are striving to attain. see also Kraut [1992]).warnerbros.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_partridge. 16. In the allegory. or precisely what circumstance prompts his inquiry. Socrates’ oracle tells him something true but whose unlikely implications must be carefully interpreted through testing and questioning. Although the aim of the pill is to assist in locating Neo’s body. conceived in explicitly mathematical terms” ([1977]. It invites the question. By contrast. The Conformist. turn his head. the suggestion of a psychoactive effect on him is unmistakable. Here are his words: “Consider. Plato might appreciate the irony of Morpheus stressing. and that dialectic is studied only after ten years of mathematics. The Oracle eventually tells Neo “what he needed to hear. and look up toward the light. Plato would regard Neo’s transformed conception of reality partial at best since Neo is not called upon to regard all sense impressions as false or diminished. and thus he has no motive for questioning it. 14. 13.Plato's Cave & The Matrix On some ears. and the like (537b-c). For this reason. Again. “who’s there?” 17. again and again. First. This inverts the account of Socrates’ oracle as Plato portrays it in the Apology. Annas (1981).html (19 of 20) [4/8/2003 17:00:46] . 144. he’d be pain and dazzled and unable to see the things whose shadows he’d seen before” (515c4-d1). Indeed. Neo”—is consciously riddling. Does the prisoner find the play of shadows internally inconsistent? Or does one or more of the unbound prisoners decide to remove the bonds? We are not told.

2nd Ed. Indianapolis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Julia. 311-37.D. Indiana: Hackett Publishing Co. Indiana: Hackett Publishing Co. trans.. Cooper. Plato’s Republic: Critical Essays. 1992. John M. The Republic of Plato. 1963. C. Oxford: Clarendon Press 1981. Lanham.warnerbros. 1902. 1997. Plato: Complete Works.C. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. C.D.” American Philosophical Quarterly 14 (1977): 151-57. Grube. ed.M. James. Richard.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_partridge. Reeve. “The Psychology of Justice in Plato. Kraut. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Rev. 1992. 2nd Ed. Indianapolis.html (20 of 20) [4/8/2003 17:00:46] . Reeve. Annas.Plato's Cave & The Matrix Adam. Philosopher-Kings: The Argument of Plato’s Republic.” In The Cambridge Companion to Plato. ed.. 1997. Kraut. Cooper. 1988.E. An Introduction to Plato’s Republic. Richard. http://whatisthematrix. edited by Richard Kraut. Princeton: Princeton University Press.C. G. “The Defense of Justice in Plato’s Republic. John M. Plato: Republic.

His research interests bridge the Analytic and Continental traditions in 20th-century philosophy. Retrieving Realism. He has written books on Heidegger (Being-in-the-World. Stephen Dreyfus is a graduate of Video Symphony. A long time amateur philosopher. just beginning his professional career as a digital film editor. He is especially interested in consciousness. and meaning. Julia Driver currently teaches at Dartmouth College.Contributors -. He is author of The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory (Oxford University Press.stanford.com. Dreyfus recently published On the Internet (Routledge). Her main research interests are in ethical theory and moral psychology. (What Computers (Still) Can’t Do. he is always looking for new and interesting ways to bring his surrealist stories and ideas to the entertainment world.edu) Hubert Dreyfus was educated at Harvard and teaches philosophy at the University of California. metaphysics.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_contribs. 1996). MIT Press).Philosophy David Chalmers is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona. and on Artificial Intelligence. He has worked as an Assistant Editor on several independent films. artificial intelligence. She is co-editor of the Normative Ethics section of The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://whatisthematrix. Berkeley. and she has published a book (Uneasy Virtue. Cambridge) and a variety of articles in the area of normative ethical theory. (http://plato. MIT Press).html (1 of 4) [4/8/2003 17:01:05] . and is working on a book with Charles Taylor tentatively entitled. His email address is lorde_red@lycos.warnerbros.

D. and she is currently writing a book for Brill Publishers entitled Dreamers.warnerbros. Religion and Culture and Judaism. Christopher Grau was educated at Johns Hopkins University and New York University. He has written widely on philosophy and philosophers in such publications as the New York Review of Books. and is co-editor of the forthcoming Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Language. the London Review of Books. He is the author of The Metaphysics of Star Trek (reprinted in paperback as Is Data Human?). He works on metaphysics. College Park. Chris is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Florida International University in Miami. In addition to editing the "Philosophy & The Matrix" section of The Matrix website. Baltimore County.Philosophy Frances Flannery-Dailey received her Ph. including The Making http://whatisthematrix. Colin McGinn was educated at Oxford University. Brooklyn College.html (2 of 4) [4/8/2003 17:01:05] . and the University of Maryland. the New Republic.C. She teaches courses in Bible.Contributors -.E. and dabbles in time travel fiction.). His current research involves the ethical ramifications of theories of personal identity. McGinn has written fourteen books. and is Assistant Professor of Religion at Hendrix College in Conway. He has previously taught at Dartmouth College. Her main area of research is apocalypticism in early Judaism (300 B. Arkansas. and the New York Times Book Review. from the University of Iowa. and ethics. Richard Hanley was educated at Sydney University and the University of Maryland. and is gainfully employed in the Philosophy department at the University of Delaware. philosophy of language. Johns Hopkins University.E. Mystics and Heavenly Priests: Dreams in Second Temple Judaism.-200 C.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_contribs.

McKenna has published various articles on the topics of free will and moral responsibility. and philosophy in film. moral and political philosophy. and works primarily on philosophical issues concerning the mind and knowledge. Johns Hopkins. Iakovos Vasiliou is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Brooklyn College.D. Michael McKenna received his Ph. from the University of Virginia in 1993. John Partridge is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Wheaton College in Norton. The Mysterious Flame. He has published on the epistemology of perception.Contributors -.html (3 of 4) [4/8/2003 17:01:05] . from Johns Hopkins University and has published articles on Plato in Ancient Philosophy and Skepsis. He received a Ph.warnerbros. Evil and Fiction. He is an Associate Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Ithaca College. He is currently working on a book devoted to a communication-based account of morally responsible agency. The Character of Mind. and the philosophy of the emotions. http://whatisthematrix. Aristotle.Philosophy of a Philosopher. philosophy and literature.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_contribs. He has previously taught at Cornell. Massachusetts where he teaches courses in aesthetics.D. Ethics. and Georgia State University. James Pryor was educated and teaches philosophy at Princeton. and the novel The Space Trap. He has published articles on Plato. and Wittgenstein and is currently working on a book on moral epistemology in Plato and Aristotle. McKenna teaches courses in metaphysics. He is currently a Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University. City University of New York.

Cyborg. http://whatisthematrix. She is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion at Southwestern University in Georgetown.warnerbros. Texas. UK. At Southwestern.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_contribs. she teaches comparative courses in Islam. the Problem of Evil.Philosophy Rachel Wagner was educated at Wake Forest University and the University of Iowa. In 1998 and 2002 he received surgical implants which shocked the scientific community. Her primary training is in Western Religions and biblical studies. His book In the Mind of the Machine gives a warning of a future in which machines are more intelligent than humans.html (4 of 4) [4/8/2003 17:01:05] . Religion and Film. His experiments are reported on in his autobiography I. and Religion and Literature. and her dissertation is based on William Blake's epic poem Jerusalem. incorporating materials from many different religious traditions.Contributors -. The second of these linked his nervous system to the internet. Kevin Warwick is a Professor of Cybernetics at the University of Reading.